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08:25 - 14 December 2005
Transport firm First Group will operate nearly all trains and buses in the Bristol and North Somerset area after winning the race to secure the Greater Western rail franchise.

The firm has won a 10-year contract to run the Great Western line, which it already operates, as well as the Bristol to Weston line, which is currently run by Wessex Trains. It means First Group, which already runs the majority of buses in the area, will be able to co-ordinate timetables between inter-city trains, local trains and buses.

Today, First said it would be introducing a new direct line between Weston and Filton, and an hourly service between Weston and Bristol.

First has also pledged to spend millions of pounds on new high-speed trains, new ticket machines, upgrades to waiting rooms, an additional 1,700 car parking spaces, and bicycle spaces at every station.

It said the current timetable would stay in place until December 2006.

First Group chief executive Moir Lockhead said: "We are delighted to be awarded both of these franchises and look forward to delivering the improved performance, capacity, facilities and customer benefits proposed in our winning bids. We are now the UK's largest rail operator and will carry more than 260 million passengers per annum."

First beat competition from rival Stagecoach to secure the new Greater Western franchise, which combines First Great Western, First Great Western Link and the Wessex service. It will run for an initial seven years with a probable extension of three years.

First has also won the Thameslink and Great Northern franchise.

First will pay the Government about 1.9 billion for the two new franchises, which it will take over from April 1 next year, and will earn more than 1 billion per year.

It said it would be immediately investing 200 million to improve its fleet of trains.

Local campaigning group Transport 2000 said the announcement was the "outcome it had lobbied for".

Spokesman David Redgewell said: "We are very pleased with the outcome. We believe that it will integrate the local trains and buses in Bristol and Weston-super-Mare.

"It will be the same company operating local trains, buses and inter-city trains. It will integrate timetables, and hopefully it will look at opening the Portishead to Bristol line."

The announcement comes just days after First revealed that rail fares are to be increased by up to five per cent in the New Year for passengers travelling to and from Bristol.

From January 2, fares for trains between Temple Meads and London Paddington will rise by up to 4.5 per cent - the third price increase from the firm in a year.

In June, it increased some fares by twice the rate of inflation, blaming rising fuel costs, despite prices having already been pushed up by four per cent in January.

Travelling on First buses also became more expensive this week when fares rose by up to 22 per cent - the third round of increases in less than a year.

First blamed fuel and insurance costs for the fare rises.

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  Your Views
Amazing...if First are now going to be running the trains, it just goes to show how low on the agenda customer service actually is. Just buy cars people...public transport in this country has been pronounced dead.
Anonymous, Bristol

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