Four bidders left in race to run Great Western train franchise
A German firm, two operators better known for running coaches and the much-derided existing train company are the four bidders left in the mix to run the West’s train services in less than a year’s time.
The new Great Western franchise starts in April next year, with the bidding being whittled down to four companies this week.
Spanish transport firm Renfe were dropped by the Government, leaving the First Group – which has run the rail services since 2005 as First Great Western – in pole position.
Vying to take the franchise from them are National Express and Stagecoach, along with the German railway firm Deutsche Bahn. First Great Western did have an option to renew their contract, but instead chose to bid for a longer deal, which risked losing the contract altogether.
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The franchise will be one of the most important in the history of the mainline between Bristol and London, as it will run during the period the line is being electrified by Network Rail, with major disruption for years around Swindon, Chippenham, Bath and Bristol. Hopes are high that the line will also be redoubled between Swindon and Kemble.
Rail users said First Great Western’s performance has improved in the past couple of years, since they were branded the worst train company in the country.
But rail campaigners said they feared cross-country rail lines that form part of the franchise package – in and around Bristol, Bath, west Wiltshire and Somerset, could suffer if the priority is the mainline between Temple Meads and Paddington.
A decision on the franchise winner is expected in December.