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Friday 26 March, 2004

Strategic Rail Auth

Franchise announcement

Strategic Rail Authority
26 March 2004

                                                                 26 March 2004

                     Thames Trains Franchise Signed

The Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) has signed a two-year franchise agreement
with FirstGroup to operate Thames Trains.

The Agreement runs from 1 April 2004 to 31 March 2006 and secures a significant
package of benefits for passengers on the Thames and Great Western franchises,
including a fundamentally revised timetable from December 2004.

On 22 December 2003, the SRA announced details of the package of benefits for
passengers that would be secured through the new franchise. The new timetable
will deliver:

•   Increased seating capacity on Reading to London Paddington fast services of
    nearly 17% in the busiest two hours of the morning peak; and nearly 15% in 
    the busiest two hours of the evening peak between London Paddington and

•   Average journey time savings of 5 minutes for the majority of London to
    Oxford services through the use of faster, and more comfortable 125 mile/h 

•   Restoration of a three-hour journey time on certain services between 
    Plymouth and London, with the first Plymouth-London train to arrive in 
    London at 09:00.

•   New half-hourly Heathrow local service from London Paddington calling at 
    local stations, a joint-venture with BAA that is in addition to the 
    (non-franchised) Heathrow Express.

•   Improvement in the percentage of trains arriving on time of around 7% across 
    both franchises by March 2006.

Notes to Editors

1.  Thames Trains runs services throughout the Thames Valley, Kennet Valley, 
    the Cotswolds, and on the North Downs line between Reading and Gatwick 

2.  On 4 November, the SRA announced that FirstGroup plc was its Preferred 
    Bidder for the new Thames Trains Franchise that will run from 1 April 2004 
    to 31 March 2006.

3.  The projected level of public subsidy for the new Thames Trains franchise 

    2004/2005   +£2,944,000 (subsidy to operator)
    2005/2006   -£1,328,000 (premium payable by FirstGroup to operate franchise)

4.  Plans for a Greater Western franchise were announced by the SRA on 6
    November 2002 following extensive local consultation, and will combine the
    existing Great Western, Thames Trains and Wessex Trains franchises into one
    operation.  It is scheduled to commence in April 2006, following a 
    competition to select a franchisee.

For further details contact the SRA Press Office: 
020 7654 6339/6285/6387/6234/6862

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