November 29, 2017

Great Western franchise to be extended and possibly split

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A GWR DMU on the St Ives branch in Cornwall. A GWR DMU on the St Ives branch in Cornwall.

BRITAIN’s Department for Transport (DfT) announced on November 29 that it will exercise an option to extend FirstGroup’s current Great Western Railway (GWR) franchise by one year, to April 1 2020, and negotiate a direct award for the GWR franchise for two years to April 2022, with an option for a two-year extension. The DfT also launched a public consultation on the future of the GWR franchise, including proposals to split it into two separate units.


Under the proposals, a new franchise would be created which would encompass inter-city services from London to Exeter, Plymouth and Penzance, together with regional services in Wiltshire, Devon and Cornwall, the Cardiff - Portsmouth route, and commuter services from London Paddington to Newbury and Bedwyn. The remaining services currently operated by GWR would become part of the other franchise (see map below).

The consultation suggests that smaller franchises may be able to tailor services more closely to the individual routes and markets they serve, and they may also be more attractive to prospective bidders, increasing competition in the franchise tender. There may also be direct competition between operators on certain routes.

However, it warns that co-ordination between services may be difficult to achieve in some areas, with the risk of added complexity for passengers dealing with two operators where previously there was only one. Furthermore, it suggests that fixed-cost overheads such as head offices would have to be spread across a smaller range of services, and resilience could also be a challenge.

The Great Western franchise was formed in 2006 by combining services previously operated by the Great Western, Wessex and Thames Trains franchises. The DfT says bringing these operations under the umbrella of a single franchise has brought significant benefits over the past decade, for example with improved connections between main line and branch line services in the West Country, but it also suggests that a different approach could be more effective in the future. The completion of Crossrail in particular will have a major impact on Great Western operations, with most stopping services between London and Reading becoming part of the Crossrail network.

GWR split map

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