Great Western Railway (GWR) has announced it has won a new National Rail Contract, just as parent company FirstGroup announced positive financial results in line with expectations.
The contract was awarded by the Department for Transport (DfT), and will last at least until 21 June 2025. There is then the opportunity for the secretary of state to extend the contract by another three years.
The National Rail Contract is part of the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail’s vision to take train operators away from emergency agreements struck during COVID-19 and towards passenger service contracts, intended to drive growth in rail usage and be laser-focused on end-client needs.
GWR in its current form took over the Great Western franchise back in 2015. Since then, it says it has seen satisfaction levels among customers climb from 81% to 91%. This, it adds, was helped considerably by the introduction of its high-speed Intercity Express Trains and the “biggest timetable change in a generation” in December 2019.
GWR managing director Mark Hopwood said: “We are delighted to have been awarded a National Rail Contract by the Department for Transport, which is a sign of its confidence in GWR as a trusted operator, and means we can continue to build on welcoming more people back to the railway.
“We look forward to working with our rail partners to develop services designed to meet changing customer needs, and putting passengers at the heart of an updated, modern railway.”
Rail minister Wendy Morton said: “We’re delighted to continue our partnership with Great Western Railway, and excited by its plans to deliver more benefits for local communities.
“During the pandemic, GWR was instrumental in keeping critical services moving and this new contract will see it continue to deliver our ambitious Plan for Rail and provide a fantastic service for passengers.”
The contract was announced at the same time parent company FirstGroup Plc issued upbeat financials for the 2021-2022 year (finishing March 26, 2022).
The group’s adjusted operating profit increased by £6.6 million (with rail at £106.7 million) as pandemic effects on travel begin to recede and passenger volumes increased.
The report added trading overall was in line with expectations, with “significant further progress” anticipated in the 2023 financial year. Its report gave a similar outlook on its First Rail business, which is delivering in line with expectations. It said leisure would play a part in driving positive contribution next year.
Executive chairman, David Martin, said: “We have delivered on our commitments this year to refocus the business, de-risk the balance sheet and unlock value for shareholders. As a cash generative business with a strong balance sheet, FirstGroup is well placed to invest in the services our passengers want, to sustain our path to a zero-emission bus fleet, and to actively consider additional value creation opportunities to leverage our market leading public transport expertise. The Board’s confidence in the prospects for the Group is reflected in the decision to commence dividend payments.”
Chief Executive Officer, Graham Sutherland, said: “The transformed Group has momentum and we expect to make significant further progress in the year to March 2023. With leading positions in bus and rail, a strong balance sheet and a clear purpose, FirstGroup has many opportunities ahead to deliver sustainable shareholder value creation while delivering the vital services that are key to achieving society’s sustainability and economic goals.”