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Monday 22 December, 2003

Strategic Rail Auth

Franchise Decision

Strategic Rail Authority
22 December 2003

                   Franchise Decision Means Big Improvements

The Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) today confirmed a major package of benefits
for passengers on the Thames and Great Western franchises, as it announced
details of the new Thames Trains franchise.

The SRA is asking its Preferred Bidder for the two-year franchise, FirstGroup
plc, to introduce a radically revised timetable across its Great Western and
Thames Trains franchises from December 2004.  This will deliver:

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

•        Increased seating capacity on Reading to London Paddington fast
         services of nearly 20% in the busiest two hours of the morning peak; 
         and over 16% in the busiest two hours of the evening peak between 
         London Paddington and Reading.

•        More and faster through trains in the peak for Theale, Thatcham,
         Newbury, Kintbury, Hungerford and Bedwyn.

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

•        Restoration of a three-hour journey time between Plymouth and London,
         with three London-bound trains and two Plymouth-bound trains achieving 
         this journey time each weekday. The first Plymouth - London train will 
         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.

•        Taunton and Exeter will receive two extra evening peak trains from
         London, with Exeter's journey time reduced as a consequence of 
         restoration of a three-hour journey time to Plymouth.

•        More seats on London to Bristol and South Wales trains with the
         reintroduction of High Speed Trains (HSTs) on the route.

Many of the benefits are delivered through removing 'crossing moves' between the
fast and the slow lines between London Paddington and Reading, which currently
mean inefficiencies and delays in the Great Western and Thames Trains
timetables.  Removing the crossing moves is possible now that the franchises are
both in the same ownership.  Formal consultation with stakeholders will take
place in the New Year where franchise 'Passenger Service Requirements' (PSRs)
are affected.

The new timetable means some increases in peak journey times on trains between
London and Slough, Maidenhead and Twyford, and on through trains from Bourne End
and Henley to London.  But as a result of these and other changes reliability
will be considerably improved.

Nicola Shaw, Managing Director, Operations for the SRA, said:

'This is exactly what the SRA has been working towards: better, quicker, more
reliable services for passengers without the disruption and cost of major
infrastructure works.'

Notes to Editors

1.      Thames Trains operates services throughout the Thames Valley, the Kennet
Valley, the Cotswolds, up to Stratford-upon-Avon, and on the North Downs line
between Reading and Gatwick Airport.

2.      The SRA announced on 4 November that FirstGroup plc was its Preferred
Bidder for the new Thames Trains Franchise that will run from 1 April 2004 to 31
March 2006.  It stated that two timetable options were being assessed (the more
beneficial of which has now been selected).  The SRA expects to sign a franchise
agreement with First Group early in the New Year.

3.      Plans for a Greater Western franchise, announced by the SRA on 6
November 2002 following extensive local consultation, 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

4.      The SRA also made announcements today: on the Preferred Bidder for the
Greater Anglia Franchise; confirming the bidders for the Integrated Kent
Franchise and confirming that it is proceeding with plans for domestic services
for Kent on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL).

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

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