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Greater Western Franchise


The privatisation of the railways in the nineties created 25 franchises. As part of the planned reduction to 17, a new ‘Greater Western’ franchise was formed by the grouping of Great Western, Great Western Link and Wessex into one large operator.

2006 Franchise

First Group were originally awarded the Greater Western franchise which started on April 1 2006. It was intended to run for for 7 years coming to an end in April 2013 – but The Department for Transport issued an Invitation To Tender in July 2012 with a brand new specification. The specification included the Bristol Metro Phase 1 which includes the Portishead line. Bids had to be in by 25 October 2012. The winning bidder was to be chosen in March 2013. The new franchise was to start on 21 July 2013 and run until 2028 – but see below..

Franchise competition terminated

A Government Press Release on 31 Jan 2013 said that “The Great Western franchise competition will be terminated. The current franchise will now run until October 2013 after the department exercised its contractual right to extend the current contract with First Great Western by 28 weeks. Negotiations for an additional two-year contract will commence with the operator, while longer-term proposals will be set out in the spring.” See below.

Existing Franchise further extended

Another Government Press Release on 26 March 2013 announced a revised franchising schedule including the existing Great Western franchise which was to be further extended to July 2016. See also BBC website article. (But see below)

Further extensions:

On 23 March 2015 the government announced that First Great Western’s franchise would continue until April 2019. In September 2015, First Great Western re-branded itself as Great Western Railway.

In November 2017, the Dept for Transport announced that the Great Western Railway franchise would be extended until March 2020 with the option to be considered of extending to March 2022.

See Dept for Transport announcement >> which included news of a Public Consultation on the future of the Great Western rail franchise. The Public Consultation will close on 21 February 2018.

30 March 2020

FirstGroup and the Department for Transport (DfT) have signed a new Direct Award to continue operating GWR from 1 April 2020, when the current agreement comes to an end. This will run for three years, with the option for the government to add a further year and will run concurrently with the six months Emergency Measures Agreement now in place with the DfT.  

DfT media release.

September 2020

On 21 September the government ended rail franchising after 24 years as the first step in bringing Britain’s fragmented network back together.

The statement said “The new system will create a simpler, more effective structure and will take shape over the coming months. The first stage, today, is moving operators onto transitional contracts to prepare the ground for the new railway.

Franchising is now replaced with more demanding Emergency Recovery Measures Agreements (ERMAs). These address the continuing impact of the pandemic on the railway and delivers on a government commitment to replace the current franchising system.”

Government statement >>