The Department for Transport (DfT) has awarded a National Rail Contract (NRC) to Great Western Railway (GWR) to continue operating the Great Western network.
The new contract will run until at least 21 June 2025, with the potential for a further three years at the Secretary of State’s discretion.
In line with the contract, GWR is committed to attracting people back to the railway by continuing to deliver improvements in customer experience, while focusing investment on sustainable services, and providing better value for money for customers and the taxpayer.
Since taking over the Great Western franchise in 2015, GWR has seen satisfaction levels among customers climb from 81% to 91%, helped considerably by the introduction of its high-speed Intercity Express Trains and the biggest timetable change in a generation in December 2019.
GWR Managing Director Mark Hopwood said: “We are delighted to have been awarded a National Rail Contract by the Department for Transport, which is a sign of its confidence in GWR as a trusted operator, and means we can continue to build on welcoming more people back to the railway.
“We look forward to working with our rail partners to develop services designed to meet changing customer needs, and putting passengers at the heart of an updated, modern railway.”
Rail Minister Wendy Morton said: “We’re delighted to continue our partnership with Great Western Railway, and excited by its plans to deliver more benefits for local communities.
“During the pandemic, GWR was instrumental in keeping critical services moving and this new contract will see it continue to deliver our ambitious Plan for Rail and provide a fantastic service for passengers.”
(Lead image: GWR)
Severn Rail Tunnel to close for engineering works
Trains that run through the Severn Tunnel between Bristol and South Wales will be affected as part of an ongoing programme of rail improvement work this July.
Network Rail say they will carry out essential track maintenance as well as testing the electrical power supply in the tunnel in July.
The work will see more than two miles of track, sleepers and ballast (the stones on the railway) replaced to ensure the continued safe and reliable operation of the railway.
The new track will also enable the removal of a temporary 50mph speed restriction through the tunnel, improving passenger’s journeys and reducing the risk of infrastructure faults.
The track work will affect Great Western Railway services from Friday 1 to Sunday 10 July.
David Bailey, GWR’s customer service manager for South Wales, said: “The work inside the Severn Tunnel will support our train service in Wales, especially those trains running under electric power serving Cardiff Central and Newport.
“We will divert long-distance trains via an alternative route and provide road transport between Newport and Bristol Parkway to ensure customers can complete their journeys.”
Trains between London and South Wales will use an alternative route between Swindon and Newport, stopping at Gloucester instead of Bristol Parkway.
A limited train service will still run between London Paddington and Bristol Parkway on weekdays only, otherwise they will travel via Bristol Temple Meads instead.
Buses will replace trains between Bristol Parkway and Newport, with customers advised to plan their journey beforehand.
In addition, buses will also replace trains at Lawrence Hill and Stapleton Road for Filton Abbey Wood or Bristol Parkway on Friday 8 and Saturday 9 July.
Follow-up engineering work is planned that will affect trains between Bristol and South Wales on Sunday 17 July and again on Sunday 14 August (until midday).
Mark Dix, Project Manager at Network Rail, said: “The Severn Tunnel is a vital rail link for passengers travelling between Wales and England, so it is extremely important that we invest in its future.
“Once this work is finished, passengers travelling via Bristol Parkway will experience fewer delays with much more reliable journeys.
“I appreciate that this work is going to cause some disruption for passengers, so I would like to thank them in advance for their patience.”
(Lead image: Network Rail / GWR)
Former Prime Minister joins railway company’s independent advisory board
The Rt Hon Theresa May MP has joined train operator Great Western Railway’s independent stakeholder advisory board, its external body of experts helping to provide opinion and oversight.
GWR operates high speed trains between South Wales and South West England to London, as well as regional and commuter services in the Cotswolds, West Country and parts of Southern England.
Invited to join the 12-strong board by the current chair, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, the Rt Hon Theresa May MP said: “I know how important reliable rail services are for my Maidenhead constituents and others across the Thames Valley, therefore I welcome this opportunity which will enable me to help deliver for our area.
“It was an excellent first meeting and I am looking forward to working with the Board to push for outcomes which will directly improve services for rail users across Maidenhead and the entire GWR network.”
Welcoming the new board member Lord Faulkner of Worcester, Chair of the GWR Advisory Board, said: “I’m delighted that Mrs May has joined the GWR Advisory Board. She has been a staunch campaigner for better rail services and connections since her election as the MP for Maidenhead 25 years ago, and she will be a very welcome addition to our Board.”
GWR has had a Stakeholder Advisory Board since its conception in 2015, bringing forward the idea from First Great Western. Set up to offer a sounding board and critical, informed advice the Advisory Board includes representatives from all the routes served by GWR, covering the fields of business; academia; the voluntary sector; the House of Commons, and the House of Lords.
GWR Managing Director Mark Hopwood said:“Listening to our customers, our stakeholders and our partners has always been a big part of how we do business. The Advisory Board brings together representatives from across the communities we serve, and we are very grateful for the advice and guidance the offer.
“We also have a number of Local Transport Forums and Accessibility Panels to help us develop services and facilities to meet customer aspirations.”
Rt Hon Theresa May MP takes the vacancy created when Ranil Jayawardena MP joined the Government. Mrs May will receive no payment and no complimentary travel but will attend up to six meetings a year with the GWR senior team.
(Lead image: GWR)
Storm Eunice: Railway to close as biggest storm in a decade to hit Wales
All rail services across Wales and the Borders will be suspended on Friday 18 February to keep passengers safe as Storm Eunice is expected to bring gusts of up to 100mph in some areas.
Train services provided by all operators throughout Wales will be suspended for the whole day, with disruption likely to continue into the weekend so that over 1000 miles of track can be checked and cleared of debris and fallen trees.
Winds of up to 100mph could hit the most westerly parts of Wales, around the Pembrokeshire coastline, while winds of between 60 and 80mph could impact inland across Wales and the borders area.
Due to the level of extreme weather expected, rail replacement services will not be able to operate as the road network will also be disrupted.
Transport for Wales is allowing passengers with tickets for tomorrow (18 Feb) or Saturday (19 Feb) to travel today or over the weekend, or Monday, if services have resumed by then. Original tickets will be valid for these journeys.
GWR is also allowing passengers to travel on alternative days with tickets valid today through to and including Monday 21 February.
Avanti West Coast passengers with tickets for Friday can use their tickets today or on Saturday 19 February.
The decision has been made jointly by Network Rail and train operators with the safety of passengers and railway staff paramount.
Bill Kelly, Network Rail Wales & Borders route director, said: “The decision to temporarily close the railway in Wales has not been made lightly but the safety of passengers and staff is our top priority.
“Storm Eunice is expected to bring extreme high winds of up to 100mph and in places it is very likely trees and debris will be blown onto train lines.
“We are sorry for the disruption caused by closing the railway and we will continue to work hard, along with our train operator colleagues, to get train services back up and running as soon as it is safe to do so.
“Passengers who are planning to travel over the weekend are strongly advised to check before they travel as the unpredictable nature of storms such as Storm Eunice means the impact on services can change quickly.”
Martyn Brennan, Operations Director at Transport for Wales, said: “The safety of our customers and our colleagues sits at the very heart of what we do and for this reason, we have taken the difficult decision to suspend all TfW services Friday until it is safe to re-open. The extreme weather forecast for Storm Eunice is very concerning, so we are strongly advising people not to attempt to travel during this time as services will not be operating.
“For those who have already purchased a ticket to travel during Storm Eunice, they can choose to either travel today, Thursday 17th, on Saturday 19th or on Sunday 20th. Alternatively, customers can claim a full refund in the normal way. I would like to thank customers for their understanding and support.”
GWR Managing Director Mark Hopwood said: “Speed restrictions will be put in place on our network, but the extent of those restrictions can only be determined by conditions on the ground and are likely to change throughout the day.
“We will continue to run as many trains as we can but those who need to travel should be aware that we will have to reduce the number of trains we can run, journey times will take longer, and those trains we can run will be much busier.
“Please do heed the usual advice to check before you travel.”
(Lead image: Network Rail)
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