Memorandum submitted by First
First, which this month changed its title from
that of FirstGroup, is one of Britain's foremost public transport
companies. It is the UK's largest bus operator, running more than
20 per cent of the UK's services, and with networks in more than
40 towns and cities. It has three rail franchises, First Great
Western, First Great Eastern, and First North Western, together
forming about 15 per cent of the rail passenger market. First
operates the highly-successful Croydon Tramlink network in South
London which is running at an annual rate of 16 million passengers
a year. In the United States, First is the second-largest school
bus operator, and the third-largest in Canada. The company is
a major supplier of public transit contracting and management,
and the largest private-sector provider of vehicle maintenance
in the USA.
In Wales and the English borders, First has
both bus and rail operations.
First Great Western runs the intercity link
between South Wales, Bristol, Swindon, Reading and London Paddington.
In North Wales, First North Western provides both local trains
and longer-distance services to cities including Manchester and
Birmingham. Last May, in line with a franchise commitment, First
Great Western doubled the frequency of services between Cardiff
and Paddington to half-hourly. The company expects that next year
its passengers will benefit from the introduction of a new fleet
of 14 Adelante trains, an investment of about £80 million.
It is deeply disappointing that these new 125
mph trains are likely to be more than 18 months late entering
traffic. First North Western's services in North Wales have been
transformed by the introduction of 27 new 100 mph trains. However,
their introduction to service was heavily delayed, and some are
currently being modified to improve reliability.
First's bus subsidiary based in Swansea has
a network of services covering much of South Wales. There are
also First bus services in the North East and Chester, and in
the Worcestershire and Herefordshire areas.
The company is totally committed to playing
a major and expanding role in the industry. Our ambitions are
illustrated by our current franchise bids:
Wales and Bordersshortlisted
Thameslink (with Dutch Railways)shortlisted
Trans Pennine Express (with Keolis, a subsidiary
of the state-owned SNCF network of France)shortlisted.
In addition, we are discussing ideas with the
Strategic Rail Authority, including service improvements, to extend
First Great Western's franchise from 2006 to 2008.
Given the improvements we have delivered to
all three rail franchises, our top commitment to safety, our added
experience of running bus and light rail companies, plus our financial
strength and ability to secure investment, we believe we are well
placed to offer the quality railway the nation deserves.
First's initial bid for the new Wales and Borders
rail franchise was shortlisted by the Strategic Rail Authority
earlier this year. News is awaited on when the next stage, production
of best and final offers, will be invoked. The initial bid envisaged
investment of about £1 billion including new and upgraded
stations, reopened lines, improved infrastructure such as track
and signalling, and new trains. The proposals were aimed at providing
an integrated network in which trains, buses, taxis, cyclists
and pedestrians were brought closer together, both physically
and by improving customer services such as information and through-ticketing.
The goal was to provide convenient door-to-door journeys. Wales
and Borders was seen as having a key role in helping to expand
social inclusion, by improving transport to and from areas damaged
by the decline of traditional industries. In developing its ideas,
First worked closely with the National Assembly for Wales, and
a wide range of local authorities and rail user groups. The proposals
are aligned to many of the projects outlined in the Assembly's
10-year transport plan.
The principle underpinning our bid is to create
not just a much improved railway, but also a quality transport
network for Wales in which operators, the National Assembly, local
authorities, and other interested parties can combine to pursue
Our vision for Wales and Borders included creation
of three distinctly-branded services, but designed to integrate
with one another:
Inter-urban, longer-distance links
with 100 mph, air-conditioned trains
Hourly services with up to two trains
an hour on key routes
Improved links with Manchester and
Birmingham, and between North and South Wales
An integrated national network of
rail and bus services
Regular departures, increased frequencies,
and reduced journey times
Services targeted at journeys to
and from work
Improved connections with First Red
Dragon and other transport services
Greatly improved access to stations
by car, bicycle, on foot, and for the elderly and mobility-impaired
A modernised and upgraded South Wales
Higher frequencies, standard service
patterns, and better connections
Development of the Valleys Light
Rail system, subject to further feasibility studies
Infrastructure investment proposals included:
Upgrading the Vale of Glamorgan line
between Barry and Bridgend with new stations at Rhoose and Llantwit
Upgrading the Ebbw Vale branch with
seven new stations
New stations at Caerleon, Newport,
and Energlyn, Caerphilly
Expanding capacity at Cardiff Queen
Development of Valleys Light Rail
Passing loop at Dovey Junction, and
line speed improvements
Expanding capacity and line speed
improvements between Newport and Shrewsbury, on the North Wales
coast line, and in West Wales.
First's mission is to transform travel, backed
by the development of integrated solutions. As the result of management
changes, the chief operating officer, Dr Mike Mitchell, now has
overall responsibility for bus and rail operations in the UK.
First Great Western has its own integration manager who is working
with bus companies to make it more attractive for passengers to
use both forms of transport.
We believe there is great scope for integration
to expand in Wales. We are looking to move bus stops closer to
station entrances, and are encouraging local authorities to take
other measures to make railheads more accessible to buses.
Current initiatives in Wales and Borders areas
First Great Western's range of add-on
More bus information at rail stations,
First's support for PTI Wales, an
integrated journey information service (First runs one of its
First North Western and bus operators
co-operating to provide through bus-rail tickets between North
Wales communities and Manchester
Rail passengers using the national
network can buy discounted bus add-on tickets for use in the Chester
With Cheshire County Council, First
is helping to provide a frequent bus link from Chester rail station
to the city centrethrough tickets are available.
In the Bristol area, First Great Western has
won a Strategic Rail Authority CycleMark award for promoting environmentally-friendly
transport by providing more cycle storage racks at Temple Meads
station. The new Bristol Parkway station, a Railtrack-First Great
Western project, was designed as a transport interchange giving
pedestrians, taxis, cars and buses easy and quick access to the
railway. At this station and at Tiverton Parkway, the company
recently helped the DTLR to carry out studies into rail interchanges.
The punctuality and reliability of First Great
Western trains has been badly affected during the past year largely
due to external causes. The company and its customers were victims
of months of disruption following the Hatfield crash on the East
Coast main line last autumn. In its aftermath, Railtrack imposed
thousands of temporary speed restrictions and then began a major
programme of track renewals. Apart from journeys being extended,
sometimes by several hours, many services were cancelled and replaced
by buses. Our passengers suffered, our revenue fell, and our reputation
was harmed. In recent months, we have worked hard to restore our
performance to pre-Hatfield levels, and have put in place a recovery
plan which is now showing encouraging results.
Among recent measures we have:
Hired extra depot staff to improve
Hired more station staff to ensure
trains are despatched on time
Changed the timetable to create more
recovery time when trains reach their final destination.
The intensively-used fleet of High Speed Trains,
now more than 25 years old, is difficult to maintain. It is being
upgraded at a cost of £18 million, to, among other things,
improve air conditioning, toilets and vestibules. The power cars
are being given a mid-life refurbishment. The short- and medium-challenge
is to improve on this momentum so that passengers will regain
confidence in us.
Looking farther ahead, from the start of the
summer timetable next May, we plan to introduce some Adelantes,
the new 125 mph trains, to South Wales-London services. We are
also examining the possibility of running a late-evening train
from Cardiff to Paddington from the start of next winter's timetable.
However, despite our own efforts, more than
70 per cent of the delays to our services can be laid at Railtrack's
feet. We run on an increasingly congested railway that cries out
for radical investment.
Failures of signalling systems and other equipment
are commonplace, parts of the network have been overwhelmed by
severe weather, and there are several locations where capacity
is severely limited:
At present, we are working with the Strategic
Rail Authority and Railtrack on several projects. In Severn Tunnel
we are seeking the installation of additional signalling to reduce
the minimum gaps between trains from seven minutes to four. Apart
from increased capacity, this would give improved reliability.
We want to see a doubling of track at Filton Junction, Bristol,
which indirectly affects services on the South Wales-Paddington
main line nearby. We also wish to build a third platform at Bristol
Other factors influence our ability to provide
a reliable service. For example, junctions at Cardiff and Newport
have slow approach speeds which add to journey times and take
up track capacity. In some areas in South Wales and between Swindon
and Didcot, track is shared with freight trains. Projected new
freight flows from Portishead in Bristol give us concerns because
of possible conflicts with our services.
The Reading area, one of the worst bottlenecks
on the rail network, is likely to grow even more congested, and
therefore even less reliable, from the summer of 2003 when Virgin
Cross Country's service from the South Coast to the North and
Scotland is due to double in frequency.
We have suggested to the Government that train
operators should have involvement in the planning and implementation
of maintenance work, the creation of the national rail timetable
and revisions to the Passenger Service Requirement, which stipulates
minimum service levels. By having extra influence, we believe
we can help to deliver a 10 per cent increase in capacity on the
We have a constructive working relationship
with both officers and members of the National Assembly for Wales.
We are putting in place arrangements to increase our dialogue
with them during the coming months to improve mutual understanding.
First Great Western has relatively little direct contact with
the UK Government, although we are in regular touch with MPs.
We are grateful for the help of local authorities in Wales, welcome
their support in making rail a more accessible form of travel,
and wish to continue to work closely with them.
Safety is First's number one priority. First
Great Western is the only intercity operator whose entire fleet
of High Speed Trains is fitted with the advanced Automatic Train
Protection systemATPwhich prevents them passing
signals set at danger. ATP is installed along all stretches of
track on which the maximum speed is 125 mph, eg London to Bristol.
Trains do not run if their ATP equipment is faulty. First Great
Western has pioneered a number of safety initiatives, including
labels showing passengers how to evacuate a carriage in an emergency,
and backed up by public address announcements by train managers.
Evacuation procedures were tested when staff and volunteers took
part in an exercise using a simulated fire on board a train. (Can
we add to this?)
All First Great Western stations are covered
by CCTV monitored at a central control. In North Wales, there
are CCTV cameras in each carriage of First North Western's new
class 175 trains. Cameras are also fitted on the exteriors, pointing
down the track, to help identify and record the actions of trespassers