First Great Western reduces First class provision

FIRST GREAT WESTERN is converting some of the First class coaches in its High Speed Trains to Standard to provide more seats, while the operator has also unveiled a number of timetable changes.

The news has come only days after it emerged that FGW is in line for a further directly awarded contract of up to five years.

Some timetable revisions have been agreed with the DfT to start in May, while FGW will now begin a formal consultation on further proposed changes to its key West of England services, in response to customer and stakeholder demand. The company said that following the disruption at Dawlish, it had been been 'considering how it can improve the train service between London and key destinations in Devon and Cornwall'.

From May a High Speed Train will be used on the Bristol-Weymouth route on summer Saturdays, there will be more capacity on the Devon and Cornwall branches and a locomotive-hauled train will run between Par and Exeter on summer Saturdays. Weston-super-Mare will gain an additional London service on summer Sundays.

Further ahead, FGW will consult on a proposal to reroute the current 07.06 Paddington to Paignton service to Cornwall, which would provide earlier arrivals of around 40 minutes at Totnes, Plymouth and stations to Penzance.

To balance this change, the 07.30 service from Paddington to Penzance would run to Paignton via Bristol instead, providing better connections with South Wales. The company said there would be a journey time improvement to Exeter St David's, Torquay and Paignton of 19 minutes.

Other changes would mean that London-Cornwall services would be more evenly spread through the day, and there would be a new 11.33 Paddington to Exeter service with a return at 14.53. To complete these revisions, timetables on the Devon and Cornwall branches would be adjusted to maintain connections, and there would be some additional timetable changes for trains routed via Westbury.

Meanwhile, more capacity on board HSTs will be achieved by converting some First class accommodation to standard, although there will still be one and half First class vehicles in each set. The remaining First Class areas will be refreshed by the realignment of single seats, installation of privacy screens, more comfortable headrests, re-covered seats, new carpets and other changes. The first new look trains are expected in service by June, with the entire fleet having been dealt with by summer next year.

FGW said the conversion of some First class areas will create almost 3,000 more Standard seats a day, with 16 per cent more seats available in Standard class on HSTs arriving at Paddington in the morning peak.

First Great Western managing director Mark Hopwood said: "We know that, ultimately, the only long-term solution to busy services is more trains. New Intercity Express trains are on their way, however, it is still some time before they will be ready for service. The conversion of these carriages to create more standard class seating is crucial in the interim period."

Work is continuing on reopening the main line at Dawlish, with Network Rail still aiming to complete the repairs to storm damage by 4 April.

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