The massive 20 per cent offer came out of productivity talks, but the company also faces a claim for a "substantial" pay increase as part of the normal wage round. Great Western is likely to end up paying a further 3 to 3.5 per cent - the "going rate" in much of industry.
The other 24 train operators face the same pressure from Aslef, the train drivers' union, which although bitterly opposed to privatisation, believes the process presents considerable opportunities to improve drivers' pay.
Operators will attempt to pay for increases through productivity, but the growing power of Aslef could eventually have implications for train fares.
Aslef strategists contend that it will now be possible to pick companies off one by one - an approach which was not possible under British Rail.
Union officials are in discussions with all the other companies - including freight operators - where the same productivity claim has been submitted. Aslef is insisting that all companies honour British Rail's commitment to reduce the working week from 39 to 37 hours by August. Lew Adams, general secretary, said that the reduction in working time was not negotiable and warned of industrial action if any operator sought to ignore BR's pledge.
Mr Adams said there was no difficulty in dealing with a changing system in which most companies were still in the state sector, others were moving over and two had been privatised. "We are negotiating with whom we can and insisting on the April settlement date," he said.
"Clearly the outcomes will differ, but we are insisting that the old system in which a low basic was topped up by overtime and allowances is replaced with a pensionable salary."
At Great Western it is proposed that basic pay increases from pounds 11,564 to pounds 20,000. The offer is to be put to a ballot.Reuse content