First Group, which yesterday suspended all services by its open-access train operator Hull Trains, has signed a new direct-award agreement to ensure continuity of Great Western Railway (GWR) services from London to the West and Wales.
The current agreement runs out on 31 March. The new agreement with the Department for Transport (DfT) allows First Group to continue operating GWR services from 1 April 2020 until 31 March 2023, with a possible extension of up to one further year at the DfT’s discretion.
The agreement will run concurrently with the DfT’s previously announced Emergency Measures Agreement (EMA) for at least the first six months.
Not only does the new agreement provide continuity for customers, employees and other stakeholders beyond the period of emergency measures currently proposed, it also commits GWR to build on the improvements it has delivered to services over the past five years. It focusses on connecting people and local communities, looking to restore normality when the present restrictions on travel due to the coronavirus pandemic are over, and has a strong emphasis on improving regional connectivity, helping customers return to the railway by making rail a more convenient and environmentally-friendly way to travel.
As part of this, GWR will bring additional trains into service to provide thousands of extra seats on regional routes across the network. There will also be increased funding to improve services for local communities and at stations, and the introduction of a combination of new flexible ticket products for customers who do not commute to work every day, such as discounted part-time season tickets and the extension of paperless pay-as-you-go schemes.
Matthew Gregory, First Group chief executive, commented: “Whilst the immediate focus of GWR is to ensure that key workers, vital to the country’s response to coronavirus, can get to where they need to go, continuity of rail services will also be critical to a restoration of normal life when the present uncertain and difficult situation is overcome.
“In the longer term, this new agreement will mean that customers can return to rail as their preferred choice of travel; with more seats, more services, better stations and more flexible ticketing to help reconnect the people and communities we serve.
“When the present emergency measures agreed with Government come to an end, today’s agreement will ensure that GWR will continue to deliver sustainable benefits for customers and an appropriate balance of risk and reward for our shareholders and the Government.
“We are proud of GWR’s achievements over the last few years, working with industry partners to transform the experience for passengers with new, faster and more environmentally friendly trains and a timetable offering record fast journey times to the major towns and cities on the route.”
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