Greater Western
Colonnade Viaduct - GWR 43188 rear of up Cornish Riviera.JPG
The current holder of the Greater Western passenger franchise is Great Western Railway (formerly First Great Western)
Current operatorGreat Western Railway
Main Route(s)Great Western Main Line, South Wales Main Line, Reading to Taunton Line, South Devon Main Line, Cornish Main Line, Wessex Main Line
Dates of operation1 April 2006 – 31 March 2023
Route map
Route map

Greater Western is a railway franchise for the provision of passenger services from London Paddington to the Cotswolds, West of England, South West England and South Wales. The current holder is Great Western Railway.


In 2003, as part of a franchise reorganisation by the Strategic Rail Authority, it was announced that the Great Western, Thames Trains and Wessex Trains franchises would be combined to form the Greater Western Franchise. This was part of a strategy to reduce the number of train operating companies providing services from a single London terminal, in order to improve efficiency and reliability.

In April 2005, the Authority announced that FirstGroup, National Express and Stagecoach had been shortlisted to bid for the new franchise.[1]

In December 2005 the Department for Transport awarded the franchise to FirstGroup, with the services operated by First Great Western, First Great Western Link and Wessex Trains transferred to First Great Western on 1 April 2006.[2]

The franchise was for ten years with the last three years being optional. Unusually this option could be exercised by either party; elsewhere these options are at the sole discretion of the Department for Transport. On 14 May 2011, First announced it would not be taking up the option, with the franchise to end on 31 March 2013, citing a desire for a longer-term contract due to the impending upgrade to the Great Western Main Line.[3]

In January 2013 the government announced the franchise competition had been cancelled, with the existing franchise extended until 12 October 2013 when it would be terminated. Negotiations took place with First in January 2013 for it to run the franchise on a management contract basis for two years.[4] A two-year franchise extension until September 2015 was agreed in October 2013,[5][6] and subsequently extended until March 2019.[7][8][9] An extension to April 2019 was granted in March 2015.[10] In 2016 an extension to March 2020 was announced on the First Group website, and this was confirmed by the government in November 2017, along with an intention to discuss with First a continuation until March 2022.[11]

Cancelled 2013 franchise competition

Four bidders pre-qualified for the 2013 Great Western passenger franchise: clockwise from top left, Arriva, Stagecoach, First and National Express
Four bidders pre-qualified for the 2013 Great Western passenger franchise: clockwise from top left, Arriva, Stagecoach, First and National Express

Expressions of interest in bidding for the new franchise were called for in December 2011[12] and in March 2012 it was announced that Arriva UK Trains, FirstGroup, National Express and Stagecoach had been shortlisted to bid. The winner was to be announced in December 2012, with the new franchisee taking over in April 2013,[13][14] however, it was announced in July 2012 that the franchise would be extended due to the late issue of the invitation to tender (ITT).[15]

The ITT was released at the end of July 2012,[16] with bids to be submitted in October 2012, the winner announced in March 2013, and operations commence on 21 July 2013.[17] However, in the wake of the InterCity West Coast refranchising process collapsing, the government announced in October 2012 that the process would be put on hold pending the results of a review.[18]

The new franchise was to have run for 15 years and seen the introduction of new InterCity Express Trains, capacity enhancements and smart ticketing.[19]

Possible future services

In October 2013, a document released by the government[20] which described the economic case for High Speed 2 (HS2) included indications of future plans for the national rail network, as a 'Do Minimum' baseline against which HS2 was compared. The assumptions for the Greater Western franchise included:

Future of the franchise

In November 2017, the government announced it was considering splitting the franchise, to create a new West of England franchise to provide long-distance services between London, Wiltshire, Somerset, Devon and Cornwall, together with local and regional services across the south-west.[21][22] This proposal was dropped by the Department for Transport after a consultation.[23] At the same time, the government confirmed its intention to extend the franchise to March 2020, and proposed a further extension to March 2022.[11] In March 2020, a further extension to 31 March 2023 was awarded by the DfT with an option to extend for a further year.[24][25]


  1. ^ "SRA - Pre-qualified Bidders for Two New Passenger Rail Franchises were announced by the SRA today". 7 April 2005. Archived from the original on 7 April 2005. Retrieved 29 October 2012.
  2. ^ "Greater Western Franchise - Publications - Department for Transport". 2 February 2006. Retrieved 29 October 2012.
  3. ^ "First Great Western bids for longer rail franchise deal". BBC News. 11 May 2011. Retrieved 27 April 2012.
  4. ^ Rail franchising future programme Department for Transport 31 January 2013
  5. ^ "First celebrates last-minute Great Western deal". Railnews. 3 October 2013. Retrieved 4 October 2013.
  6. ^ "First Great Western retains Wales and west rail franchise". BBC News. BBC. 3 October 2013. Retrieved 4 October 2013.
  7. ^ "First Great Western offered new franchise deal". BBC News. 10 October 2014. Retrieved 10 October 2014.
  8. ^ "FirstGroup wins Great Western contract extension". The Guardian. 10 October 2014. Retrieved 10 October 2014.
  9. ^ "Updated franchise schedule signals GW extension". Railnews. 10 October 2014. Retrieved 10 October 2014.
  10. ^ "FirstGroup's Great Western rail deal extended to 2019". BBC News. 23 March 2015. Retrieved 23 March 2015.
  11. ^ a b "Great Western Rail Franchise: Public Consultation" (PDF). November 2017. p. 6. Retrieved 30 November 2017.
  12. ^ "UK-London: Great Western rail passenger franchise letting". Retrieved 29 October 2012.
  13. ^ Haigh, Philip (18 April 2012). "First leads a field of seven bidding for rail franchises". RAIL magazine. Peterborough: Bauer Media (694): 8–9.
  14. ^ "Bidders to oversee improvements on rail franchises announced - News - Department for Transport". 29 March 2012. Retrieved 29 October 2012.
  15. ^ "Great Western franchise to be extended". Railnews. 19 July 2012. Retrieved 19 July 2012.
  16. ^ "New Great Western franchise to deliver new express trains - News - Department for Transport". 27 July 2012. Retrieved 29 October 2012.
  17. ^ "New Great Western franchise to deliver new express trains" (Press release). Department for Transport. 27 July 2012. Retrieved 29 July 2012.
  18. ^ "West Coast Main Line franchise competition cancelled - News - Department for Transport". 3 October 2012. Retrieved 29 October 2012.
  19. ^ "Weston-super-Mare to London rail re-franchise concerns". BBC News. BBC. 10 August 2012. Retrieved 13 August 2012.
  20. ^ "The Economic Case for HS2" (PDF). High Speed Two Ltd. October 2013. pp. 27–28. Archived from the original (PDF) on 1 June 2016. Retrieved 15 November 2017.
  21. ^ "Rail revamp aims to tackle train delays". BBC News: Business. 29 November 2017. Retrieved 30 November 2017.
  22. ^ "The future of the Great Western franchise". 29 November 2017. Retrieved 30 November 2017.
  23. ^ "Transport Committee". UK Parliament. Retrieved 24 July 2018.
  24. ^ Critical rail services protected in new GWR and Southeastern Department for Transport 30 March 2020
  25. ^ FirstGroup says new Great Western contract has appropriate balance of risk and reward Railway Gazette International 30 March 2020