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First Rail

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First Rail is one of the UK’s most experienced rail operators, carrying around 130m passengers across our two franchises and our open access operation.

Key facts

  • 130 million passengers in 2016/17
  • 1,200 diesel and electric rolling stock vehicles
  • Around 5bn passenger miles travelled last year

We operate two UK rail franchises - Great Western Railway and TransPennine Express - and one open access passenger rail service - Hull Trains. We also operate the Tramlink service on behalf of Transport for London and the Heathrow Connect service with Heathrow Airport.

We are an experienced operator of all types of passenger railways - intercity, commuter, regional and sleeper services.

As one of the most experienced operators in the UK, we are uniquely positioned to work with our partners to add value and improve services. Since 2005 our franchises have received more than 250 awards, including Great Western Railway, the current Rail Business of the Year, highlighting work done in partnership with Network Rail to keep the west moving after unprecedented flood damage in 2014; and for the ‘Building a Greater West’ marketing campaign. TransPennine Express has recently been awarded Investors in People Gold status and in 2014 became the first rail company to win the British Quality Foundation UK Excellence Award.

We have proposed and delivered over £650m capital investment into our franchises since 2006. Since we began running rail operations, we have introduced more than 740 additional vehicles across our various franchises, which has also led to the creation of new depot facilities and jobs.

Even through the recession our rail services have delivered growth. For example, at TransPennine Express passenger levels have doubled since 2004 – cutting taxpayer subsidy as a proportion of passenger revenue as a result. We are embracing new technology to enhance the customer experience. The customer app for our operating companies has been downloaded more than one million times; we are working with councils to introduce smart ticketing and we have led one of the largest roll outs of free Wi-Fi on the UK rail network. In 2014 FirstGroup gave train passengers the first ever opportunity to earn Nectar points when booking their journeys online with a UK rail operator.

Across all our operations, we are working in partnership with industry partners and local stakeholders to provide better rail services, keep people moving and communities prospering across the country.

We have a great track record in rail that has proven successful through different generations of rail franchising and across a range of passenger rail operations. We remain committed to retaining a leading position in the thriving UK rail market which has seen spectacular growth thanks to privatisation, far outstripping economic growth. The UK rail network’s performance is unmatched in other sectors and is the envy of Europe, with higher passenger kilometres travelled and passenger satisfaction scores than Germany, Holland or France.

Great Western Railway (GWR)
GWR provides high speed, commuter, regional and branch line train services, carrying more than 105 million passengers every year across the Great Western rail franchise area, which includes South Wales, the West Country, the Cotswolds, and large parts of Southern England.

We will run the franchise until at least April 2019, bringing our experience of managing the route over many years to ensure the successful delivery of the major programme of infrastructure upgrades on the network. The £7.5bn Great Western Mainline modernisation programme is the biggest investment on the route since Brunel. During this time we are introducing new or refurbished trains on every part of the network meaning additional and more frequent services, reduced journey times and more seats, particularly on key commuter routes.

Click here for more information about GWR

TransPennine Express
TransPennine Express provides vital connections between key cities in the North of England and Scotland, helping to create the Northern Powerhouse, as part of a national investment of more than £1bn in the North’s railways.

TransPennine Express operates inter-city services on three main routes:
• North TransPennine - including Newcastle to Manchester Airport, Middlesbrough to Manchester Airport, Scarborough to Liverpool and Hull to Manchester Piccadilly
• South TransPennine from Cleethorpes via Doncaster and Sheffield to Manchester Airport
• North West and Scotland – Edinburgh, Glasgow, Carlisle, Penrith, Oxenholme to Manchester Airport via Preston and Bolton.

We will operate the franchise until at least 2023, and during that time TransPennine Express will oversee an investment of more than £500m which will transform rail services across the North of England and Scotland. This investment will lead to an 80 per cent rise in capacity at the busiest times of the day and increase connections between the largest cities in the North and Scotland by 55 per cent by 2019.

Click here for more information about TransPennine Express

Hull Trains
Our open access operation, Hull Trains, is the UK’s most popular train company according to an independent survey by Transport Focus. Since we started services in 2000 Hull Trains has filled a vital gap in the market, making 90 journeys a week between London, Hull and intermediate stations, and transporting more than one million people annually – an increase of more than ten times since inception. We have secured track access rights to operate the service until 2029. We are proud to support Hull’s status as the UK’s City of Culture 2017.

Click here for more information about Hull Trains

We operate the Tramlink network on behalf of Transport for London, which continues to see strong patronage of around 29m passengers per year. Passenger numbers have increased by more than 10m since the start of operations.

Click here for more information about Tramlink