Great Western Railway (train operating company)

Great Western Railway (GWR)[1] is a British train operating company owned by FirstGroup that operates the Greater Western passenger railway franchise. It manages 197 stations and its trains call at over 270.[2] GWR operates long-distance inter-city services along the Great Western Main Line to and from the West of England and South Wales, inter-city services from London to the West Country via the Reading–Taunton line, and the Night Riviera sleeper service between London and Penzance. It also provides commuter and outer-suburban services from its London terminus at Paddington to West London, the Thames Valley region including parts of Berkshire, parts of Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire; and regional services throughout the West of England and South Wales to the South coast of England. Great Western Railway also provides and maintains the Electrostar Class 387 fleet for Heathrow Express.

Great Western Railway
Greater west railw logo.svg
43016 and 802113 PLY.jpg
  • InterCity Great Western 4 February 1996 – 31 March 2006
  • Greater Western 1 April 2006 – 31 March 2023
Main region(s)
Other region(s)
Fleet size
Stations called atover 270
Stations operated198
Parent companyFirstGroup
Reporting markGW
Track gauge1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 in) standard gauge
Other Edit this at Wikidata
System map
Great Western Railway network.svg

The company began operating in February 1996 as Great Western Trains, as part of the privatisation of British Rail. In December 1998 it became First Great Western[3] after FirstGroup bought out its partners' shares in Great Western Holdings. In April 2006, First Great Western, First Great Western Link and Wessex Trains were combined into the new Greater Western franchise and brought under the First Great Western brand. The company adopted its current name and a new livery in September 2015 to coincide with the start of an extended franchise that is due to run until 31 March 2023.


An InterCity 125 as operated by the original Great Western Trains franchise in 1996-1998

As part of the privatisation of British Rail, the Great Western InterCity franchise was awarded by the Director of Passenger Rail Franchising to Great Western Holdings in December 1995, and it began operations on 4 February 1996. Great Western Holdings was owned by some former British Rail managers (51%), FirstBus (24.5%) and 3i (24.5%).[4][5]

In March 1998, FirstGroup bought out its partners' stakes to give it 100% ownership.[6][7][8] In December 1998, the franchise was rebranded First Great Western.[9]

On 1 April 2004, First Great Western Link began operating the Thames Trains franchise. It ran local services from Paddington to Slough, Henley-on-Thames, Reading, Didcot, Oxford, Newbury, Bedwyn, Worcester, Hereford, Banbury and Stratford upon Avon. It also operated services from Reading to Gatwick Airport (via Guildford and Dorking), and from Reading to Basingstoke.[10]

First Great Western Link operated the Thames Trains franchise from April 2004 until it was absorbed into the Greater Western franchise in 2006.

On 1 April 2006, the Great Western, Great Western Link and Wessex Trains franchises were combined into a new Greater Western franchise. FirstGroup, National Express and Stagecoach were shortlisted to bid for it. On 13 December 2005, it was announced that FirstGroup had won the franchise.[11] Originally, First planned to subdivide its services into three categories based on routes.[12] Following feedback from staff and stakeholders, the decision was taken to re-brand and re-livery all services as 'First Great Western'.[13]

In May 2011, FirstGroup announced that it had decided not to take up the option to extend its franchise beyond the end of March 2013. It stated that, in the light of the £1bn plan to electrify the Great Western route from London via Bristol to Cardiff, it wished to try to negotiate a longer-term deal. CEO Tim O'Toole said: "We believe we are best placed to manage these projects and capture the benefits through a longer-term franchise."[14]

By not taking up the option to extend its original franchise contract for a further three years, FirstGroup avoided having to pay £826.6m to the government; it received extra subsidies totalling £133m from the government in 2010.[15]

In March 2012 Arriva, FirstGroup, National Express and Stagecoach were shortlisted to bid for the new franchise. The winner was expected to be announced in December 2012, with the new franchisee taking over in April 2013.[16] But it was announced in July 2012 that the franchise would be extended, due to the late issue of the invitation to tender (ITT).[17] The ITT ran from the end of July until October 2012. The winner would have been announced in March 2013, and taken on the franchise from 21 July 2013 until the end of July 2028.[18] The new franchise would include the introduction of new Intercity Express Trains, capacity enhancements and smart ticketing.[19] The award of the franchise was again delayed in October 2012, while the Department for Transport reviewed the way rail franchises were awarded.

In January 2013, the government announced that the current competition for the franchise had been aborted, and that FirstGroup's contract had been extended until October 2013.[20] A two-year franchise extension until September 2015 was agreed in October 2013,[21][22] and subsequently extended until March 2019.[23][24][25] A further extension to April 2019 was granted in March 2015.[26]

The refurbishment of first-class carriages in 2014 included interiors that featured a new GWR logo[27] and no First branding. The whole company was rebranded Great Western Railway (GWR) on 20 September 2015 and introduced a green livery in recognition of the former Great Western Railway which existed between 1835 and 1947.[28][29] The new livery was introduced when HST interiors were refurbished, and on sleeper carriages and Class 57/6 locomotives.[30]

In May 2018 TfL Rail took over services from Paddington to Hayes and Harlington, and in December 2019 it took over some stopping services to Reading.[31][32] In March 2020, a further extension to 31 March 2023 was awarded by the DfT with an option to extend for a further year.[33][34]


Great Western Railway is the primary train operator in Devon, Cornwall, Somerset, Bristol, Berkshire, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, and Oxfordshire.

The following is a simplified list of off-peak weekday service from the May to December 2021 timetables.


London to South Wales
Route tph Calling at Stock
London Paddington to Cardiff Central 1 800
London Paddington to Swansea 1
London to Bristol and Somerset
Route tph Calling at Stock
London Paddington to Bristol Temple Meads 2
  • Some services are extended to Weston-super-Mare and Taunton during peak periods.
  • Limited services are extended to Exeter St Davids, Paignton, Plymouth and Penzance.
London to Devon and Cornwall
Route tph Calling at Stock
London Paddington to Exeter St Davids 1tp2h
  • Newbury is also served by a fast Thames service.
  • Many trains continue to Plymouth or Paignton, calling at Dawlish, Teignmouth, plus Totnes for Plymouth bound trains.
  • Frome is served directly by one peak hour train per day in each direction.
London Paddington to Plymouth 1tp2h
London Paddington to Penzance 1tp2h
  • Services include the Cornish Riviera and Royal Duchy expresses, non-stop Reading–Exeter.
  • Services include the Night Riviera sleeper train.
  • Reading only stops to pick up passengers on Fridays.
London to Oxford, Bedwyn and The Cotswolds
Route tph Calling at Stock
London Paddington to Oxford 1
London Paddington to Great Malvern 1
London Paddington to Bedwyn 1
London Paddington to Cheltenham Spa 1
  • Trains reverse at Gloucester.
  • Two trains per day continue to Worcester Shrub Hill.


Great Western Mainline
Route tph Calling at Stock
London Paddington to Didcot Parkway 2
  • Stations between Paddington and Maidenhead are off-peak only.
  • An all-stations service on this line is provided by TfL Rail
London Paddington to Newbury 1tp2h Reading
  • Train alternates with Exeter Intercity
Reading to Newbury 1
Greenford Branch
Route tph Calling at Stock
West Ealing to Greenford 2 165
Windsor Branch
Route tph Calling at Stock
Slough to Windsor & Eton Central 3 shuttle 165
Marlow Branch
Route tph Calling at Stock
Maidenhead to Marlow 1 165
Regatta Line
Route tph Calling at Stock
Twyford to Henley-on-Thames 2 165
North Downs Line
Route tph Calling at Stock
Reading to Gatwick Airport 1 165
Reading to Redhill 1
  • Trains either serve Chilworth and Gomshall, or Betchworth.
Reading–Basingstoke Line
Route tph Calling at Stock
Reading to Basingstoke 2 165
Oxford Canal Line
Route tph Calling at Stock
Didcot Parkway to Oxford 2 Radley (1tp2h) 165
Didcot Parkway to Banbury -
  • Runs roughly every two hours instead of Didcot Parkway–Oxford train.


Wessex Mainline
Route tph Calling at Stock
Cardiff Central to Portsmouth Harbour 1
Bristol and Somerset
Route tph Calling at Stock
Cardiff Central to Taunton 1
Bristol Parkway to Weston-super-Mare 1
Gloucester and the Heart of Wessex Line
Route tph Calling at Stock
Great Malvern to Westbury 1tp2h
Gloucester to Weymouth 1tp2h
Trans-Wilts Line
Route tph Calling at Stock
Swindon to Westbury 1tp2h
Severn Beach Line
Route tph Calling at Stock
Bristol Temple Meads to Severn Beach[35] 3tp2h


West Coastway Line
Route tpd Calling at Stock
Brighton to Great Malvern 1[citation needed] 158

Devon and CornwallEdit

Cornish Mainline
Route tph Calling at Stock
Exeter St Davids to Penzance 1
  • Many trains also call at Dawlish and Teignmouth. Some services extend to Cardiff Central.
Avocet and Riviera Lines
Route tph Calling at Stock
Exmouth to Paignton 2
  • Trains reverse at Exeter St Davids.
Tarka Line
Route tph Calling at Stock
St James Park to Barnstaple 1
Dartmoor Line
Route tph Calling at Stock
Exeter Central to Okehampton 1tp2h 150
Tamar Valley Line
Route tph Calling at Stock
Plymouth to Gunnislake 1tp2h 150
Looe Valley Line
Route tph Calling at Stock
Liskeard to Looe 1
  • For off-peak services, 1tp2h runs non-stop, alternating with a stopping service.
Atlantic Coast Line
Route tph Calling at Stock
Par to Newquay 1tp2h
  • On certain days in the summer, local services are replaced by expresses to and from London which run non-stop between Par and Newquay.
Maritime Line
Route tph Calling at Stock
Truro to Falmouth Docks 2 150
St Ives Bay Line
Route tph Calling at Stock
St Erth to St Ives 2 150

Named trainsEdit

Great Western Railway's named passenger trains include:[36]

Name Origin Destination Other details
The Armada Plymouth London Paddington Penzance on Westbound Friday service
The Atlantic Coast Express London Paddington Newquay Summer service
The Bristolian London Paddington Bristol Temple Meads Weston-super-Mare Eastbound only
The Capitals United Swansea London Paddington Swansea to Paddington early morning service does not call at Reading, Pullman restaurant service available 05.28 ex-Swansea (Mon–Fri only)
The Cathedrals Express Hereford London Paddington None
The Cheltenham Spa Express London Paddington Cheltenham Spa Eastbound service, Cheltenham Spa to Paddington 12:05 service.
The Cornishman Penzance London Paddington Westbound service additionally calls at Pewsey, Westbury & Castle Cary
The Cornish Riviera London Paddington Penzance Eastbound service does not call at Newton Abbot
The Devon Express London Paddington Paignton 07:30 Westbound only service. No return journey. Weekdays only
The Golden Hind Penzance London Paddington Westbound service additionally calls at Newbury and Totnes. Pullman Restaurant available (Mon-Fri) 06:53 Plymouth to Paddington serving breakfast, 18:03 Paddington to Penzance serving dinner.
The Mayflower London Paddington Plymouth Non stop Taunton to Reading East & West bound following May 2019 timetable change.
The Merchant Venturer London Paddington Bristol Temple Meads or Weston-super-Mare Eastbound only
The Night Riviera London Paddington Penzance See Night Riviera
The Pembroke Coast Express[37] London Paddington Pembroke Dock Summer Saturday only
The Red Dragon[37] London Paddington Carmarthen None
The Royal Duchy London Paddington Penzance Eastbound service calls additionally at Tiverton Parkway & Taunton. Pullman Restaurant available on the 12:05 Paddington to Penzance (Mon–Fri only)
The Saint David[37] London Paddington Swansea Pullman restaurant service available 10:45 ex-London Paddington (Mon–Fri only)
The Torbay Express London Paddington Paignton Westbound service via Bristol TM, Eastbound service via Castle Cary
Y Cymro – The Welshman[37] Swansea London Paddington 07:28 Eastbound only

Onboard servicesEdit

Pullman DiningEdit

Great Western Railway is now the only major UK rail operator with restaurant cars. These operate on certain West Country and Wales trains to or from London Paddington. They are available to first-class and standard-class passengers, though only first-class passengers may make advance reservations, and they have priority over seats in the restaurant.[38] Meals in the restaurant car are not included in the price of rail tickets.

First classEdit

First class interior on a GWR Intercity Express Train

GWR has first class on all its long-distance high-speed services. First class on the IETs includes fabric reclining seating with tables at every seat, as well as an at-seat service provided by a customer host on most journeys.[39] Unlike the previous HSTs, the IETs do not have leather first-class seating due to fire regulations.[40] Like the HSTs, there are power sockets and USB charging points at every seat. There is Wi-Fi throughout the first class-carriages, which GWR describes as 'upgraded'.[39]

Standard classEdit

Standard-class interior on a GWR Intercity Express Train

Standard class is provided on all services. Many services on long-distance and regional routes have specific seat reservations.

Trolley serviceEdit

An at-seat trolley service is scheduled to operate on most IET services, with a trolley in each portion of a ten-coach train. This is different from the HSTs, which had buffet counters branded as 'Express Cafes'.



In 2004–2005, 79.6% of trains arrived on time (defined as within 10 minutes of their scheduled arrival time).[41] On 22 December 2006, the First Great Western InterCity service was declared the worst in Britain for delays, according to figures from the Office of Rail Regulation, with more than one in four trains running late.[42] First was also the only train company to achieve a year-on-year fall in performance results.[citation needed]

First Great Western admitted to misreporting the number of cancellations in the period from August to December 2007, revised figures showing the company to have breached the cancellation threshold in the franchise contract. Specifically the company was alleged to have deliberately cancelled trains on the day prior to service without the prior approval of the Department for Transport, and without recording these cancellations on their performance figures. The company was also accused of falsifying records in order to claim dispensation for large numbers of cancellations.[43] First Great Western was named in a Passenger Focus survey as the worst train operating company for 2007.[44]

On 6 September 2007 FirstGroup announced changes to its management structure, apparently designed to strengthen the First Great Western commuter services. Anthony Smith, head of the rail users council Passenger Focus commented, "A fresh management approach is welcome. Clearly, looking at the passenger satisfaction scores for First Great Western, the train company and Network Rail have a lot to do. However, passengers will believe it when they see improvements."[45]

GWR has some of the most overcrowded services on the network. Here, passengers at Bristol Temple Meads board a service for Cardiff Central.

Some delays are attributable to Network Rail rather than the operator, as the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) found in September 2007,[46] when it remarked that the First Great Western service continued "to suffer from very high levels of delays attributed to Network Rail" and described Network Rail's performance as "exceptionally disappointing".

By 2009, passenger satisfaction with First Great Western was described by Passenger Focus as having "significantly improved".[47]

The company is no longer the worst-performing UK rail operator, a title which it held for a long period. However, the Which? survey of rail passengers published in February 2013 showed the company scoring lowest of the larger operators with less than 40% satisfaction (Virgin, which topped the poll, managed 67%).[48]

The latest punctuality statistics to be released by Network Rail for period 7 of 2013/2014 were 89.3% PPM (Public Performance Measure) and a MAA (Moving Annual Average) of 88.8% for the 12 months up to 12 October 2013.[49]

Remedial PlanEdit

In February 2008 the Secretary of State for Transport stated that FGW had "fallen persistently short of customers' expectations and been unacceptable to both passengers and government". She issued First Great Western with a Breach Notice for misreporting cancellations and a Remedial Plan Notice as a result of exceptionally high levels of cancellations and low passenger satisfaction. As part of the Remedial Plan Notice, First Great Western was required to achieve improvement milestones, to lease five more Class 150 units to allow three-car trains to be used on Portsmouth-Cardiff services, to undertake a much more extensive refurbishment of the Thames Turbo fleet, to offer 50% higher compensation for the duration of the franchise, to offer 500,000 more cheap tickets on off-peak services, and to improve station customer information systems. Failure to do this would result in FGW losing its franchise. FirstGroup's railway operating profit, meanwhile, was reported to have risen 10% in the six months to September 2007.[50][51]

Fake tickets distributed by protestors on 22 January 2007

By June 2009, FGW had transformed its performance to become one of the UK rail network's more punctual operators, recording 94.6% of trains arriving on time.[52] In February 2010 FGW was named Train Operator of the Year at the national Rail Business awards. Presenting the award, judges said, "First Great Western provides an extensive network of commuter, regional, local and intercity trains. The systems they have put into place over the last two years have made a significant improvement to the service they now provide."[53]

However, in February 2015 First Great Western came 17th (out of 21) in Which? magazine's Best and worst UK train companies survey. Customers gave First Great Western a score of 47% (compared to the worst-performing operator, Govia Thameslink Railway, with a score of 43%, and the best-performing operator, Grand Central, with a score of 76%). First Great Western also scored 3 out of 5 stars across five of six specific categories, apart from Value for money in which First Great Western scored 2 out of 5 stars.[54]


Passenger numbers on Great Western Railway from 2010/2011–2019/20 Q2 (rolling 12-month figure)[55]

First Great Western has been criticised for overcrowded trains, and in January 2007 commuters on the Bath-Bristol service staged a protest against overcrowding. Participants were issued with imitation tickets printed with "Ticket type: standing only", "Class: cattle truck", "Route: hell and back", "Price: up 12%". The company threatened protestors with criminal prosecution and fines of £5,000, but staff failed to enforce ticket requirements.[56] Alison Forster, First Great Western's Managing Director at that time, apologised to customers.[57]

In January 2008 another fare strike was held as a passenger group said that not enough improvements had been made, despite First Great Western announcing that 2008 season tickets and car-parking charges would be frozen until the end of the year.[58][59]

In August 2010 First Great Western was shown to have operated all the top ten most overcrowded trains in England and Wales, mostly between Reading and London Paddington.[60] By December 2011, this had reduced to two.[61]

In 2011 First Great Western was revealed to be the train company with the highest levels of overcrowding: an average of 16.6% of passengers were shown to be standing during the morning and evening peak times.[62] In 2012 it held the record for the most overcrowded train, carrying nearly twice its capacity, the 07:44 Henley-on-Thames to London Paddington.[61] Paddington, the London terminus for many FGW services, was identified as the most overcrowded station.[60] The company was also listed as the operator with the most passengers in excess of capacity in the south east region in 2012.[63]

Disabled passengersEdit

In July 2018, a disabled woman was threatened by Great Western Railway staff with police action and removal from the train she was travelling in, for using a disabled space for her mobility scooter.[64] Canadian-born comedian Tanyalee Davis, who has a form of dwarfism, said she was humiliated when a Great Western Railway conductor made an announcement that she was "causing problems" which had delayed the train. The incident occurred after a woman travelling with a young child demanded that Davis make way for her pram.[65] GWR said the incident should not have happened and "No one travelling with us should be left feeling like this".[66]

Strike actionEdit

In 2015 the imminent arrival of the new Class 800 saw a series of strikes by the RMT union over who has the right to control the doors, First Great Western as it was known at the time, wanted to replace conductors with driver-only operation (DOO); however, following several discussions it was agreed to keep conductors on all IET services.[67] Another strike took place in early December 2016, amidst a background of ongoing rail strikes on a national level, the RMT ballotted Servest UK workers who were employed on an outsourcing contract to GWR as cleaners; the ballot passed in favour of strike action by 98%. A disruptive transfer period in the outsourcing contract, from Mitie to Servest UK, had resulted in what the RMT referred to as the creation of a "two-tier workforce" amongst cleaners at GWR, with an inequality in pay and working conditions between cleaners employed directly by GWR and those outsourced to Servest UK.[68] Two 24-hour strikes were held between 6 a.m. and 6 a.m. on 16–17 December and 23–24 December,[69] followed by a 48-hour strike between 6 a.m. and 6 a.m. on 19–21 January 2017.[70] Further industrial action was suspended by the RMT following the January strike as a result of an improvement in ongoing negotiations between the RMT, GWR and Servest UK.[71] The dispute was formally resolved in July 2017 as RMT members voted in favour of accepting a new pay deal.[72]

Temporary withdrawal of IETsEdit

A Class 800 bogie. The white casting at the top is attached to the body and has the triangular yaw damper bracket on the left and the lifting pad is at the top of the square fixture to the right.

In April 2021 cracks were discovered in the yaw damper brackets (part of the suspension system) of Class 800 and 802 InterCity Express Trains (IETs). Eight trains were withdrawn from service and an investigation started into the cause.[73] On 8 May all these trains and similar ones operated by other companies were taken out of service. Cracks had now been found in the lifting pads (a component fixed near the bogie) and it was feared that if these were to fall off they may cause injury or derailment.[74][75]

The only IETs allowed to operate were those which had been carefully inspected and found to have no significant cracks. This meant that most of GWR's 93 IETs were unavailable which led to significant disruption to long-distance services. Class 387s operated additional services from London Paddington to Didcot which were later extended to Swindon and Bristol Parkway after approval was given for them to operate in service on this route. Three addiitonal 387s were loaned from c2c and were modified to work with GWR's fleet, mostly on services to Newbury. CrossCountry operated a service on behalf of GWR from Swindon to Bristol Temple Meads and the few available 800s and 802s were concentrated on services west of Swindon and to Plymouth.[76] Plans were agreed on 13 May to increase inspections of the lifting pads and yaw dampers so that more trains could be returned to service.[77][78] A further six Class 387s were loaned from Govia Thameslink Railway in July 2021 and used in a common pool with GWR’s existing 387/1 fleet, being surplus to requirements while the Gatwick Express service was suspended.[79]

Rolling stockEdit

Great Western Railway inherited a fleet of InterCity 125 sets (Class 43 power cars and Mark 3 Coaches) and Class 57 locomotives and Mark 3 sleeper coaches from BR. In 2006, it inherited a fleet of Class 165 and Class 166 units from First Great Western Link, and a fleet of Class 150, Class 153 and Class 158 units from Wessex Trains.

Inter-City servicesEdit

Class 800 Intercity Express TrainEdit

800301 at Oxford

Most Great Western Railway intercity services are operated by a fleet of 57 Class 800 trains from the Hitachi A-train family. GWR operates most of its long-distance services between London and destinations such as Swindon, Chippenham, Bath Spa, Bristol Temple Meads, Newport, Cardiff Central, Swansea, Carmarthen, Cheltenham Spa, Oxford, Worcester Shrub Hill and Hereford, using these trains, which gradually replaced the older InterCity 125 sets between autumn 2017 and spring 2019. Class 800s may also be used for services to Paignton and Plymouth, although the majority of services to far southwestern destinations are operated using Class 802 trains which have higher engine power to cope with the steeper gradients in the south west of the country. On 28 April 2021, six Class 800s were withdrawn from service due to cracks being found during maintenance and were sent to Hitachi for inspection.[80]

Class 802 Intercity Express TrainEdit

802110 at Tiverton Parkway

GWR operates most long-distance services between London and destinations in the west of the network (such as Paignton, Newquay, Plymouth and Penzance) using its fleet of 36 Class 802 trains, the first of which was introduced on 20 August 2018.[81]

Also in the Hitachi AT300 family, these trains are almost identical to Great Western Railway's fleet of Class 800 trains, the only key difference being that the Class 802 trains have a higher engine operating power—700 kW (940 hp) per engine as opposed to 560 kW (750 hp)—and are fitted with larger fuel tanks to cope with the gradients and extended running in diesel mode on the long unelectrified stretches in Devon and Cornwall.[82] Hitachi has announced that testing of a tri-mode Class 802 will begin in 2022. This tri-mode version will have batteries fitted in an attempt to reduce carbon emissions entering and leaving stations.[83]

Sleeper servicesEdit

Class 57/6 + Mark 3Edit

Class 57 locomotive at St Philip's Marsh depot

Four Class 57/6 locomotives haul Night Riviera Sleeper services, and failed HST sets.[84] When these are unavailable, GWR hires Direct Rail Services Class 57/3 locomotives to operate the Night Riviera.[85]

Thames Valley and Bristol servicesEdit

Class 165/1 Networker TurboEdit

165130 at Redhill

The Class 165 "Networker Turbo" is a two- or three-coach DMU used on shorter-distance services in the Thames Valley area, with the majority based at Reading Traction Maintenance Depot. They are mainly used on branches such as the Greenford branch line, Slough–Windsor & Eton line, Marlow branch line and Regatta Line. They are also used on services between Reading and Basingstoke, Didcot Parkway and Oxford or Banbury and sometimes services between London and Oxford. Some (eventually all) are based at St Philip's Marsh depot in Bristol, where they work on the most of the lines in the area including the Severn Beach line, Heart of Wessex Line, Golden Valley line and Bristol to Exeter line. From summer 2018, they are due to run on Cardiff Central to Portsmouth Harbour services too. In response to its Remedial Plan Notice, First Great Western undertook a more thorough refurbishment of the Thames Turbo fleet than originally planned:[86] the trains were to be fitted with improved lighting, carpets, toilets, and a revised seating layout.[87] This refurbishment started in September 2016.

Class 166 Networker Turbo ExpressEdit

The Class 166 "Networker Turbo Express" is a three-coach DMU, similar to the Class 165 units but with an internal layout more suitable for longer-distance services. They are now mostly based at St Philip's Marsh depot in Bristol, where they currently work on most of the lines in the area including the Wessex Main Line, Severn Beach line, Heart of Wessex Line, Golden Valley line and Bristol to Taunton line.

Class 387/1 ElectrostarEdit

387132+387143 at Reading

The Class 387 "Electrostar" is a four-coach EMU built by Bombardier, with a 2+2 seating layout, tables, power sockets and free Wi-Fi. It can be operated in four, eight- and twelve-coach formations. The class began to enter service in September 2016 on weekday peak services between London Paddington and Hayes & Harlington, using the overhead electrical equipment used by Heathrow Express. Services using the class were extended to Maidenhead in May 2017[88] and later to Didcot Parkway,[89] and from Reading to Newbury.

Bombardier Transportation at Ilford Depot had modified twelve of these trains by December 2020, installing new first-class seating, Wi-Fi, luggage racks and on-board entertainment, to be used on Heathrow Express services. Rebranded as "Heathrow Express", and refurbished with Heathrow Express moquette, they replaced the existing Class 332,[90] entering service on 29 December 2020.

West of England servicesEdit

Class 43 + Mark 3 HST / Class 255 CastleEdit

A Class 255 Castle set hauled by HST Class 43 powercars passes through Stapleton Road on the way to Cardiff Central

Great Western Railway will be retaining 24 power cars and 48 carriages from its former High Speed Train fleet to form 12 'Castle' 2+4 sets. They are branded as Class 255 sets and will be for use on multiple services between Cardiff, Exeter and Penzance.[91] All power cars being retained will have new nameplates, named after castles from across the area that GWR serve. The sets are progressively being fitted with automatic doors and controlled emission toilets, to allow their operation beyond 2020, at Doncaster Works.[82] Due to a delay in refurbishing the Castle sets, slam door 2+4 sets known as 'Classic' sets were used until the end of 2019.

Until 2017, GWR operated the vast majority of its long-distance services with a fleet of 58 InterCity 125 High Speed Train sets,[92] each consisting of eight Mark 3 coaches sandwiched between two Class 43 locomotives. GWR operated the largest InterCity 125 fleet, owning five sets outright; the rest were leased from Angel Trains and Porterbrook. From 2009 to 2012 (when Class 180s were reintroduced on the Cotswold line)[93] all the company's intercity services were worked by HSTs except the Night Riviera sleeper service between London Paddington and Penzance. From late 2017, following the completion of electrification from Hayes & Harlington to the west of England,[94] intercity services gradually became operated by Class 800 IETs, although a few peak services remained operated by HSTs until early 2019. GWR continued to use HSTs on services to Exeter, Plymouth and Penzance until May 2019, when they were all withdrawn in favour of Class 802 units.[95]

The youngest Class 43 locomotive dated from 1982. After a successful trial by Angel Trains and FGW in 2004, two power cars received new MTU engines while two received new Paxman VP185s, fitted by Brush Traction of Loughborough. The MTU engine proved the better option, both for reliability and for emissions, resulting in FGW, Brush and Angel Trains starting the HST Modernisation programme. The last power cars to be re-engineered were released in April 2008, while several other companies' HSTs have now all undergone a similar programme.[96]

GWR's High Speed Train fleet were refurbished by Bombardier in Derby and Ilford between 2006 and 2008,[97] with leather seats introduced in first class, redesigned toilets, a redesigned buffet, and at-seat power points. The company opted for mainly airline seats, giving more seats per train.

Following the Southall and Ladbroke Grove rail crashes, GWR requires its HSTs to have automatic train protection and Automatic Warning System safety systems in operation. If either is faulty, the train is not used.

Class 150/2 SprinterEdit

150232 at Cheltenham Spa

The fleet of 17 two-coach Class 150 Sprinter units was inherited from Wessex Trains as part of the Greater Western franchise shuffle. The fleet had been refurbished by Wessex Trains in 2003, with 2+2 seating arranged in a mixture of 'airline' (face to back) and table seating. The fleet is widespread throughout the former Wessex area, and carried a maroon livery with advertising vinyls for South West Tourism. Each unit was sponsored by a district, town or attraction and carried a unique livery. Most received names of attractions, places and branch lines. Two units were repainted into the new First 'Local' livery, but all units are now due to receive the new green GWR livery. As part of a national fleet shuffle, eight units went to Arriva Trains Wales on 10 December 2006, and were replaced with 8 Class 158 units.

First Great Western received five extra Class 150/2 units in May 2007 as part of its Remedial Plan Notice, to enable three-car Class 158 trains to operate on the Portsmouth-Cardiff services.[86] Five Class 150 sets were hired from Arriva Trains Wales from March 2008 until they were returned in November 2010.

All of Great Western Railway's Class 150/2s are now based at Exeter TMD.[citation needed]

Class 158 Express SprinterEdit

158956 at Bristol Temple Meads

The Class 158 is a two- or three-coach DMU used on regional express services in the former Wessex Trains area. In February 2008, as part of its Remedial Plan Notice, First Great Western announced that it would form some hybrid three-car Class 158 units in March 2008, made possible by the transfer of five Class 150/2 units from Arriva Trains Wales.[86] There are now ten hybrid units in operation and, combined with the non-hybrid three-car unit, this provides eleven three-car units to operate services between Portsmouth and Cardiff, Great Malvern and Brighton, and Great Malvern and Weymouth. After the introduction of Class 150/1 trains from London Overground and London Midland, three of the remaining five two-coach Class 158s will be reformed to provide two further three-coach Class 158s.[98]

The fleet was refurbished in a programme begun in 2007,[99] which included fitting of reupholstered seats, new lighting and floor coverings, CCTV within the passenger saloons, and refurbished toilets. At the same time, the exteriors of the vehicles were repainted in the updated FGW livery, including artwork depicting various local places of interest. GWR's Class 158 vehicles were refurbished at Wabtec in Doncaster.[100]

In 2018, the 158s began running alongside the first completed Class 255 Castle set on services between Bristol, Exeter, Plymouth and Penzance. Since then, more of the 158 fleet has gradually started to move more west with more 158 sets working services between Exmouth and Paignton / Barnstaple. The timetable change in December 2019 saw the start of the 158s taking over the 143s on the Tarka Line to Barnstaple primarily, with some of the units also working on the Cardiff / Bristol to Penzance route alongside the Castle sets.[101]

Current fleetEdit

Family Class Image Type Top speed Number Coaches Routes Year Built
mph km/h
Commuter, regional and branch line
Sprinter Class 150/2   DMU 75 120 19 2
  • Exmouth – Paignton
  • Exeter – Okehampton
  • Liskeard – Looe
  • Par – Newquay
  • Truro – Falmouth Docks
  • St Erth – St Ives
Class 158 Express Sprinter   90 145 11 2
  • Cardiff Central – Portsmouth Harbour
  • Cardiff Central or Bristol Temple Meads – Exeter St Davids
  • Exeter Central - Barnstaple
  • Exeter St Davids – Penzance
  • Great Malvern – Brighton
  • Bristol Temple Meads – Weymouth
7 3
Networker Class 165   90 145 20 2
  • Reading – Redhill or Gatwick Airport
  • Reading – Basingstoke
  • Reading or Didcot Parkway – Oxford or Banbury
  • Twyford – Henley-on-Thames
  • Maidenhead – Marlow
  • Slough – Windsor & Eton Central
  • West Ealing – Greenford
  • Bristol Temple Meads – Avonmouth or Severn Beach
  • Great Malvern – Bristol Temple Meads – Southampton Central or Weymouth
  • Swindon – Gloucester or Weymouth
  • Cardiff Central – Portsmouth Harbour[102]
  • Exmouth - Paignton
16 3
Class 166 Turbo Express   90 145 21 3
  • Bristol Temple Meads – Avonmouth or Severn Beach[103]
  • Bristol Parkway – Weston-super-Mare[104]
  • Cardiff Central – Taunton
  • Swindon – Cheltenham Spa or Westbury
  • Great Malvern – Bristol Temple Meads – Southampton Central or Weymouth
  • Cardiff Central – Portsmouth Harbour[102]
  • Barnstaple – St James' Park (Weekends Only)
  • Exmouth - Paignton
Electrostar Class 387   EMU 110 177 33 4[105] London Paddington or Reading – Didcot Parkway or Newbury 2016-2017
6 [nb 1] 2015-2016
3 [nb 2] 2016
Class 255 Castle[106] Class 43 HST   Diesel locomotive 125 201 35[107] 4 Cardiff Central or Bristol Temple Meads – Taunton – Exeter St Davids – Plymouth – Penzance[107] 1975-1982
Mark 3   Passenger coach 63[107]
Hitachi AT300 Class 800 IET   BMU 125 201 36 5[108][109] London Paddington
  • – Oxford, Bedwyn, Worcester Shrub Hill, Great Malvern, Hereford
  • – Cardiff Central, Swansea, Carmarthen
  • – Bristol Temple Meads, Weston-super-Mare
  • – Cheltenham Spa, Taunton, Paignton
21 9


Class 802 IET   125 201 22 5 London Paddington
  • – Exeter St Davids, Paignton, Plymouth, Penzance
  • – Oxford, Bedwyn, Worcester Shrub Hill, Great Malvern, Hereford
14 9


Night Riviera Class 57   Diesel locomotive 95 152 4 Varies[a]
  • 2 Night Riviera sets for London Paddington – Penzance sleeper service
(Rebuild: 1998–2004)
Mark 3   Passenger coach 110 177 18 1975-1988
Shunting locomotives
Class 08   Shunting locomotive 15 24 8 n/a Stock movements in depots 1952-1962
  1. ^ Locomotive-hauled Mark 3 coaches are generally formed of 7–9 coaches for the Night Riviera. They are hauled by a single Class 57.

Future fleetEdit

In April 2018, GWR announced that it was procuring nineteen bi-mode dual-voltage Class 769 units from spring 2019 for use on Reading to Gatwick and Oxford, Thames Valley branch lines and mainline suburban services to London Paddington to provide extra capacity and to cover the loss of Class 387 units which operate the Heathrow Express service.[113][114] The introduction of the Class 769 was later delayed first to early 2021,[115] then to December 2021.[116]

Class Image Type Top Speed Number Coaches Routes Year Built In service
mph km/h
769/9 Flex   BMU 100 161 19 4
  • Reading – Redhill or Gatwick Airport
  • Slough – Windsor & Eton Central
  • Twyford – Henley-on-Thames
  • Reading – Basingstoke
[citation needed]
1987 as BR Class 319's and 2017–2020 as 769's 2021

Past fleetEdit

Former train types operated by Great Western Railway include:

Family Class Image Type Top speed Total Withdrawn Routes operated Notes
mph km/h
Commuter, regional and branch line
Pacer Class 142   DMU 75 120 12 2011 Exmouth – Paignton or Barnstaple Transferred to Northern Rail
Class 143   8 2020 Stored.

143603 & 143612 will be preserved by Vale of Berkley Railway.

Sprinter Class 150/0   2
  • Exmouth – Paignton or Barnstaple
  • Cardiff Central or Bristol Temple Meads – Penzance
  • Great Malvern – Brighton
  • Reading – Basingstoke
Transferred to Northern Trains
Class 150/1   17 2018
  • Exmouth – Paignton or Barnstaple
  • Cardiff Central or Bristol Temple Meads – Penzance
  • Plymouth – Gunnislake
  • Liskeard – Looe
  • Par – Newquay
  • Truro – Falmouth Docks
  • St Erth – St Ives
  • Severn Beach Line
  • Heart of Wessex Line
Transferred to Arriva Rail North
Class 153 Super Sprinter   14 2018–2019
Electrostar Class 387   EMU 110 177 12 2019–2020 London Paddington or Reading – Didcot Parkway or Newbury Transferred to Heathrow Express
InterCity 125 Class 43  


Diesel locomotive 125 200 91 2019

London Paddington

  • – Hereford, Swansea, Carmarthen
  • – Cheltenham Spa, Bristol Temple Meads
  • – Taunton, Exeter St Davids, Paignton, Plymouth, Penzance
Mark 3  


Passenger coach 408
Alstom Coradia Class 180 Adelante   DMU 125 200 14 2017
  • London Paddington – Oxford, Worcester Shrub Hill or Hereford
  • London Paddington – Bristol Temple Meads, Cheltenham Spa, Cardiff Central or Swansea (until 2009)
Transferred to Grand Central and Hull Trains
A former FGW motorail carriage, seen at Penzance

Locomotive-hauled trains were in use on services between Cardiff, Bristol, Taunton and Paignton from December 2008 until November 2010 using Virgin Trains Class 57 locomotives with Mark 2 coaching stock. A second set hauled by EWS Class 67s was used between December 2009 and October 2010. These were withdrawn when sufficient DMUs were available following the transfer of six Class 150/1 sets from London Overground.[117] First Great Western issued a tender in May 2013 so that locomotive-hauled trains, or other train formations, could be operated on the Taunton-Cardiff route again, proposed to start in December 2013, to cover for DMUs out of service for refurbishment on Monday-to-Friday diagrams.[118] GWR also runs loco-hauled sets composed of seating coaches and a Class 57 locomotive from the Night Riviera service between Penzance and Exeter St Davids as part of the summer timetable to release a DMU for other services.

Twelve Class 142 Pacer DMUs were received by First Great Western in 2007, starting operations that December. These were sub-leased from Northern Rail (where they had been stored), in part to cover for refurbishment of FGW's Sprinter fleets but also to allow the Class 158s to be re-formed as three-coach sets. They were based at Exeter TMD, working alongside the similar Class 143s on services in Devon and Cornwall, including the Avocet Line, Riviera Line and Tarka Line. Five 142s were returned to Northern Rail in late 2008, following the completion of the refresh of Class 150 Sprinter units. The remaining seven units were returned to Northern Rail by November 2011 as they had been replaced by Class 150 units cascaded from London Overground and London Midland following the arrival of new Class 172 Turbostar units.

GWR's Night Riviera service also included the UK's last Motorail service, until that aspect was withdrawn at the end of the 2005 summer season due to low usage.

First Great Western previously leased 14 Class 180 Adelante units, operating on the Great Western Main Line, but following technical issues they were transferred elsewhere.[119][120] In 2012, five units were returned to First Great Western to operate weekday services on the Cotswold Line, allowing class 165 and 166 units to be reallocated to increase capacity on Thames Valley services.[93] The Class 180s left GWR in stages between June and December 2017 to join Grand Central.[121][122]

The 150/1s in the GWR fleet transferred to Arriva Rail North in stages, beginning with the first three in August 2017 when their leases expired,[123] and ending in April 2018.[124] The 153s also transferred elsewhere in stages too, with the first four units going to East Midlands Trains and the next five units going to Arriva Rail North. This left just five 153 units with GWR, which eventually transferred to Transport for Wales in April 2019.[125]


HST in modified Great Western Trains livery with First Group logo and fader vinyls at Reading
A First Great Western Class 150 in the 'Local Lines' livery, worn by former Wessex Trains services

Great Western Trains adopted a livery of dark-green upper body and ivory lower body, with a stylised 'Merlin' bird logo.[126] Following the rebranding as First Great Western, fader vinyls were added to the lower body, with a gold bar containing the stylised FirstGroup F logo and separate Great Western logotype.[127] This livery was sometimes known as the 'fag packet' livery.[128]

When the Class 180 Adelante units were delivered, they were painted in the intercity version of FirstGroup's corporate bus livery. This consisted of a purple-blue base, with pink and gold bars and large pink Fs on the carriage sides and white highlights along the roof and around the driver's cab. The doors were painted white to comply with the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. The HST fleet was repainted to match as they went through overhaul; however, the livery on the power cars was progressively altered to a plain blue base with pink and gold stripes, following problems with dirt build-up on the large white areas.[126]

The rolling stock used on the Night Riviera sleeper service retained the green and gold First Great Western livery until the stock forming these services was refurbished in 2007, when they were painted into 'dynamic lines' livery with vinyls advertising that the coaches operated the 'Night Riviera Sleeper'.

The new Greater Western franchise involved repainting the HST fleet into FirstGroup's 'Dynamic Lines' livery for intercity and commuter services in the former First Great Western and First Great Western Link areas. The livery was initially applied to the HST fleet as they went through refurbishment, although the Class 180 units did not receive the new livery due to the termination of their lease. The commuter units also received the new livery while receiving standard maintenance, as a refurbishment was not originally planned.[129] A second livery known as 'Local Lines' was applied to the DMU fleet, replacing the 'Dynamic Lines' with the names of local attractions forming a similar outline.[130]

The rebranding of the company as Great Western Railway introduced a new GWR logo and a dark green livery with white stripes and grey doors in September 2015.[131] Most rolling stock has since been re-liveried into this green livery; however, there are still a number of units that retain the plain FGW blue livery as these units are not due for a repaint. However, every train that wore the 'Local Lines' livery has been re-liveried into the green livery.


Great Western Railway trains are based at eight depots. Other depots at Landore (Swansea) and Old Oak Common (London) closed in 2018.

Depot Nearest station Allocation Picture Notes
North Pole London Paddington   Operated by Agility Trains
Reading Reading   rebuilt to the North of its original location for the new flyover.[132][133]
Stoke Gifford Bristol Parkway 800   Operated by Agility Trains
St Phillip's Marsh Bristol Temple Meads  
Exeter TMD Exeter St Davids  
Laira Plymouth  
Long Rock Penzance  
Swansea Maliphant Swansea 800   Operated by Agility Trains

Past DepotsEdit

Depot Nearest station Allocation Picture Notes
Old Oak Common London Paddington   Closed 8 December 2018[134]
Landore Swansea   Closed for GWR in 2018

TV documentaryEdit

Channel 5 broadcast two television series looking into day-to-day challenges of the Great Western mainline, including events at Dawlish (as well as the sea wall destruction), Cheltenham race day and rugby at Cardiff. It was broadcast as The Railway: First Great Western and the last series aired in 2015. A similar series based on London Paddington started in September 2017 and covered events such as the reaction to the Manchester Arena and London Bridge attacks, and several days of severe disruption.

Future of the franchiseEdit

The franchise was due to end on 31 March 2020. In November 2017, the Department for Transport announced its intention to negotiate a further extension for the franchise until April 2022 with an option to extend for a further two years.[135][136] A new contract was agreed on 30 March 2020, running for three years, extendable to four.[137]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Units: 201 to /206 are on long-term lease to Great Western Railway from Great Northern.
  2. ^ Units: 301, /302 and /306 are on long-term lease to Great Western Railway from c2c.


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  135. ^ The future of the Great Western franchise Department for Transport 29 November 2017
  136. ^ GWR responds to DfT announcement to extend GWR franchise Great Western Railway 29 November 2017
  137. ^ "Critical rail services protected in new deals for GWR and Southeastern". Retrieved 30 March 2020.

External linksEdit

  Media related to Great Western Railway (First Group) at Wikimedia Commons

Preceded by Operator of Great Western franchise
Succeeded by
First Great Western
Greater Western franchise
Preceded by
First Great Western
Great Western franchise
Operator of Greater Western franchise
Preceded by
First Great Western Link
Thames franchise
Preceded by
Wessex Trains
Wessex franchise