by the DfT

First Great Western awarded another four years by the DfT

Published: 24th March 2015

Iconic 40 year old High Speed Trains to be replaced by new Hitachi trains between London and Penzanc

Hitachi Rail Europe has announced that it has been named as the preferred supplier for a fleet of 29 new trains for the newly extended First Great Western franchise.

The new trains are known as ‘bi-mode AT300 trains’ so named because they operate as conventional electric trains while under the wires and as a diesel train on unelectrified routes. They will replace what are often considered the best trains built by British Railways in the mid 1970s, the Intercity 125s.

Seven of the trains will be nine-car and 22 will be five-car units but the contract has an option to provide up to another 30 carriages. The mixed fleet enables the train operator to mix and match trains up to a ten-carriage service. The deal has to be ratified by the Department for Transport (DfT).

The AT300 trains are similar to the Class 800 bi-mode trains recently arrived in the UK for the DfTs Intercity Express Programme but are fitted with a more powerful engine to deal with the Devon and Cornwall hills. They will run as electric trains between Paddington and Newbury in each direction but west of Newbury to Penzance, operate as diesel trains.

Long distance information

These long distance trains will have additional leg room in standard class airline style seats and be equipped with Wi-Fi and power sockets accessible from every seat. Each seat will also have a LCD seat reservation display with sophisticated traffic light vacancy notification.

Each carriage will be pressure-sealed for passenger comfort when entering tunnels at high speed and have larger overhead luggage racks to carry airline-style hand luggage.

The AT300 trains are based on ‘Javelins’ used on 140mph services between St Pancras and Folkestone and the Class 800/801 train for the Intercity Express Programme. They will operate at 125 mph while in electric operation and 100 mph for diesel only routes.

First Great Western awarded extension by the DfT

Incumbent train operator FGW has been awarded a franchise extension by the DfT running from September this year to April 2019. This is to ensure the minimum disruption while the Great West Main Line is electrified and new trains introduced. These projects involve huge complex engineering works, followed by demanding testing, commissioning and training projects.

FGW’s services link London Paddington with Devon and Cornwall, the Thames Valley, Oxford and the south Midlands and South Wales. The DfT announced that an agreement with First Group plc for First Great Western (FGW) to continue to operate trains until April 2019. Once the upgrades and new trains have been introduced, the result will be around three million additional seats annually by 2018 including 4000 extra morning peak seats into London every day by December 2018.

The deal promises more services to Devon and Cornwall made possible by the new Intercity Express trains plus reduced travel times The introduction of 58, 4-car electric trains for Thames Valley will revolutionise these services over the next two years. A £30 million investment improving stations and car parks with 2000 more car park spaces provided.

They said:

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: I am determined that passengers in the west, Thames Valley and South Wales get a railway that is fit for the 21st century. This is a fantastic deal which will give them more seats, more services and brand new fleets of modern trains.

FirstGroup Chief Executive Tim O’Toole said: We are delighted to be awarded the contract by the DfT to operate the Great Western franchise to at least 1 April 2019, in a deal that will deliver for passengers and taxpayers. As the proud operators of this important franchise, we will be using our unrivalled knowledge and experience of the network to help deliver significant upgrades over the next few years, in particular the introduction of new trains as the mainline is electrified.

We are already working closely with the DfT and Network Rail to deliver the initial phases of the £7.5 billion Great Western Mainline modernisation programme. Under our experienced management, the franchise will see new or refurbished trains on every part of the network, resulting in more frequent and faster journeys and an increase in the number of seats.

FGW will….

Pay the government around £68 million to operate the franchise from September 2015 until April 2019 in premium payments. They will also assume responsibility for introducing the Hitachi trains from summer 2017 between Paddington, Bristol, South Wales and the Cotswolds while the Government will also work with FGW to improve the performance and quality of the rolling stock serving the south west of England, particularly for intercity services, during this direct award.

Thames Valley electric services explained

37 of the new Class 387 Bombardier trains currently being introduced on Thameslink routes will be transferred to Paddington Thames valley commuter services along with 21 Class 365 electric trains. These trains will normally operate in eight or 12-carriage formations and will replace the current 20 year old diesel train fleet progressively from 12 months’ time increasing the number of seats by 25% in the high peak from two years’ time.

The diesel trains will be transferred to improve capacity by over 50% on local suburban services in Bristol and Exeter while also increasing mainline services in Devon and Cornwall using Class 158 trains.

They said:

Mark Hopwood, Managing Director of FGW said: “Following the direct award of the franchise announced by the Department for Transport today, I am delighted that we have selected Hitachi Rail Europe as our preferred supplier for new intercity trains, should the DfT approve our plans.

FirstGroup has conducted a competitive procurement exercise for these trains and we are close to securing private financing for the deal shortly. The DfT will be making a final decision by the end of June”.

Andy Barr, Chief Operating Officer, Hitachi Rail Europe said: “The Class 800 bi-mode trains were initially designed for the Great Western and East Coast main lines and we have refined the design further for the challenges of the route to Plymouth and Penzance. We have put a lot of thought into ensuring a passenger environment that is comfortable for short and long-distance journeys, incorporating feedback by passenger groups.

External Links

Liverpool street station in the UK at rush hour

Help and advice with train travel in the UK

Train travel in the UK should be a pleasure, not a headache. So if you’re taking a train on the UK railway, start your journey here. We’ve lots of hints, tips and advice to help you find your way around, travel smoothly and arrive in style by train.

Read more

eurostars passing at 375mph from the drivers seat in france


Welcome to our #railchat page. Our #railchat discussions take place over on Twitter, with our resident expert Phil Marsh. If you would like to get involved, please do join us, and use the dedicated hashtag #railchat. See our previous discussions below:

Read more

Old steam train in Shanty Town Museum

Locomotives & Engines

Our rail network would be nothing without them. From Stephenson's Rocket to British Rail Class 92 and beyond, explore the facts, information and anecdotes behind the steam, diesel and electric locomotives that built the age of the train.

Read more


Latest Tweets


Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh to London Kings Cross by Train

Book in advance with and save 85% advanced bookings.

From £21.00

Buy now

Millenium Dome, London

Birmingham New Street to London Euston by Train

Book in advance with and save 92% on advance bookings.

From £6

Buy now

You may also like...



Follow us on Twitter and become part of our rail community! is the easy way to buy cheap train tickets online.



Control your business fuel costs with a supermarket fuel card – free to apply, no ongoing account charges and no monthly minimum spend.