Westbury rail group welcomes First contract extension
Westbury’s rail campaigners have welcomed the announcement that First Great Western has been awarded an extension to operate services between London Paddington and the south west until September 2015.
The service was previously under threat after First Great Western took the option in its contact with the Department of Transport to relinquish the franchise three years before it was due to finish in 2016.
The government’s specification for the re-franchising of the route did not include the continuation of high speed through rail services between Westbury and London, which left the service in doubt.
However, the franchising competition was cancelled by the government last year and now as part of the extension to First Great Western’s contract, a commitment has been given that through train services at Westbury will be retained.
In addition, longer distance trains will also be fitted with free Wi-Fi for passengers.
Ian Cunningham, of Westbury Train Watch, said: “The good news is that they said they will maintain the service that we have at the moment, which was the minimum requirement for us.
“We are still concerned about what happens after the franchise ends, but it’s nice to know that the service will be there in the intervening time and to have that security.
“Now we do have that security, we need to make sure that we are prepared for when the next franchise bidding process takes place. We need to keep an eye on events and make sure we are in a better position than we were previously.
“Following the work we have done, the Government shouldn’t see us as a charity case anymore and it will hopefully now be clear that the train service from Westbury is crucial to the town.”
The 23-month extension will mean First Great Western will carry on running the Great Western main line until September 2015, before bidding starts for a new long-term franchise.
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