FirstGroup's £68m West Country deal on track until 2019

First also won a year-long extension to its operation of the TransPennine Express line last week

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The Independent Online

Commuters into Paddington station will be able to fight over more morning rush hour seats as part of a four-year, £68m deal to extend FirstGroup’s operation of the Great Western line to Oxford, Bristol and the West Country.

The Government’s decision comes despite First Great Western receiving the most complaints about delays on social media last year, with commuters sending 45,100 tweets about late trains and 265,201 missives about First’s service over all – more than any other train company.

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Nonetheless, the longer franchise is a second piece of good news for FTSE 250-listed First, which won a year-long extension to its operation of the TransPennine Express line last week. Investors were disappointed after it lost five huge rail bids last year, including the London-to-Scotland East Coast Main Line and the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern deal, the biggest rail contract in Europe.

Now First has promised to add an extra 4,000 seats per day by December 2018 to peak morning services on the Great Western route from Paddington to Oxford, Bristol and Penzance. In return it secures the operation of the route until at least April 2019, and potentially a further year.

The Department for Transport said First had also promised new trains, faster journeys between Penzance and Paddington and London to South Wales, Oxford and Bristol; a £30m investment in stations, bike storage and car parks; and a £2.5m accessibility fund. Patrick McLoughlin, the Transport Secretary, claimed that he wanted to secure “a railway that is fit for the 21st century”.

First’s American chief executive, Tim O’Toole, who used to run London Underground, claimed the company would use its “unrivalled knowledge and experience of the network to help deliver significant upgrades over the next few years, in particular the introduction of new trains as the mainline is electrified”.

First is paying the Government £68m to operate the franchise from September 2015 until April 2019. Its shares rose 4 per cent, or 3.95p, to 99p yesterday.

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