First Great Western is to continue running rail services between the West and London for another three years under a franchise extension announced today by Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin.
The train operator had previously been granted a six-month extension until October following the fallout from the West Coast franchise debacle last year.
First Great Western will run mainline services between Bristol and London Paddington and local services around Bristol under the franchise extension until July 2016. New franchises will then take effect.
Tim O’Toole, chief executive of First Great Western owner First Group, said: “This provides continuity and consistency for our passengers and enables us to continue to deliver considerable improvements to services.
“We look forward to reviewing the details of the upcoming franchise competitions as they are announced, and submitting further high-quality bids that deliver for passengers, taxpayers and shareholders.”
Mr McLoughlin also announced a number of new investments in the railways and a new timetable for franchises.
Virgin trains are to continue running on the West Coast mainline until 2017, five years after Sir Richard Branson was supposed to lose the right to operate Britain’s biggest stretch of track.
Meanwhile, the East Coast main line will be put back into private hands, after it was nationalised by the Labour government in 2009.
Passenger Focus chief executive Anthony Smith said: “The time for passenger power has come. For too long passengers have been the passive recipients of major decisions made on their behalf behind closed doors.
“The voice of the user – and main funder – of the railways should be radically boosted in a process that needs to be opened up to scrutiny. We are going to work with Government to make this a reality.”