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First Group will continue operating the Great Western rail franchise for another two years.
The train operating firm will keep the franchise from Paddington in London to the West Country and Wales until September 2015 under a new 23-month franchise deal.
First Great Western will also offer free wifi onboard more of its trains as part of an agreement announced today (October 3) by the Department for Transport. The priority for this wifi service will be given to long-distance trains.
Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin (pictured) said: “This agreement will provide additional sleeper carriages between London and Cornwall securing the future of a key service once under threat.
“We have also secured a commitment to deliver greater wifi coverage to improve the experience of long-distance journeys for passengers.
“But I am also determined that we see further improvements during the lifetime of this contract; more standard class and fewer first class seats on key services and the delivery of more electric trains for the Thames Valley.”
First Great Western is also to receive £4.6 million to spend on upgrading stations which are most in need of refurbishment across the network.
The deal will also see the operator continue to operate through services from Cornwall, Hereford, Weston-super-Mare, Bedwyn and Pewsey to London.
First Group has been running the franchise since April 2006 and the contract had been due to end this month.
The government’s rail franchise policy was thrown into turmoil last year when the bidding process for the West Coast Main Line was found to be fatally flawed following a legal challenge by Virgin Trains.
McLoughlin set out a new timetable for the franchising process in March which includes granting extensions of two to three years to some existing operators. This will allow the bidding processes for longer-term franchises to be staggered over several years.