Transport operator FirstGroup has extended its deal to run services on the Great Western rail network until 2019.
The Aberdeen-based group says this contract, which runs until April 1, 2019, could be lengthened by a further 12 months, at the discretion of the Department for Transport.
The government is set to receive £68million from FirstGroup to operate the rail franchise, with the firm investing £36million to improve facilities across the route, which covers South Wales, the Westcountry, the Cotswolds, and large parts of Southern England.
Over the 42 month contract, First Great Western will see the largest fleet upgrade in a generation, with new or updated trains planned for every area of its network. FirstGroup says journey times from London to Oxford, Bristol, South Wales, and Devon and Cornwall will be reduced as a result.
Key commuter markets including Bristol, Exeter, Oxford and Gatwick airport will also benefit from increased capacity, with 16% more peak time seats into and out of London Paddington station.
By December 2018, there are planned to be an additional 9,000 seats every day across the franchise.
The company says these changes will result in additional and more frequent services on faster and more comfortable trains. It will also offer improved amenities such as free Wi-Fi across every fleet.
FirstGroup chief executive, Tim O’Toole, said: “As the proud operators of this important franchise, we will be using our unrivalled knowledge and experience of the network to help deliver significant upgrades over the next few years, in particular the introduction of new trains as the mainline is electrified.
“We are already working closely with the DfT and Network Rail to deliver the initial phases of the £7.5bn Great Western Mainline modernisation programme. This investment is the biggest on the route since Brunel, and will transform a key part of the country’s transport infrastructure.
“Under our experienced management, the franchise will see new or refurbished trains on every part of the network, resulting in more frequent and faster journeys and an increase in the number of seats. These, and a range of further passenger benefits, will keep people moving and communities prospering across the Great Western network.”
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin welcomed the move, saying that commuters will be given “more seats, more services and brand new fleets of modern trains.”
He added: “This government knows the importance of our railways. That is why they are a vital part of our long-term economic plan, with over £38bn being spent on the network between 2014 and 2019.”