Electric dreams

Great Western Railway’s modernisation programme will deliver more frequent and faster journeys for customers

Great Western Railway (GWR) is a British train operating company owned by FirstGroup that manages 208 stations and has trains call at over 270 stations. Operating long distance services across the Great Western Main Line to South West England and South Wales, the company also provides the Night Riviera sleeper service between London and Penzance. Moreover, GWR offers commuter/outersuburban services from its terminus at Paddington, Central London, to West London; the line then continues through the Thames Valley region through Berkshire, parts of Buckinghamshire and Oxford. On top of this, the company provides regional services through the West of England to the South Coast of the UK; covering over ten counties and south Wales.

Operations began in 1996 in line with the privatisation of British Rail; two years on it became First Great Western following FirstGroup’s strategic buyout of its partners’ shares in Great Western Holdings. Eight years on, First Great Western Link and Wessex Trains combined into the Greater Western franchise and became part of the First Great Western brand. Most recently, in September 2015, the company adopted its current name as well as a new livery to coincide with the beginning of a new Direct Award franchise; this is due to run until 30th March 2019.

Indeed, having formally adopted a modernised GWR brand, the company began the process of adapting a new look as it heralds a new era in rail with the arrival of Hitachi Intercity Express Trains, replacing High Speed Trains; and Class 387 Electrostars for London and the Thames Valley.

GWR 139 bThe new fleet will enable the company to deliver more frequent services, reduced journey times and greater capacity in response to increasing numbers of passengers travelling by rail. The delivery of the new fleets will cut the average age of Great Western Railway’s train fleet by over half and will add three million extra seats a year across the entire network.

With the arrival of 57 bi mode Intercity Express Trains, Network Rail is working to electrify and modernise the Great Western network. The major transformation is anticipated to cost £7.5 billion and includes the electrification of the Great Western mainline route from London Paddington to Cardiff; as well as significant upgrades to trackside equipment.

A key tenet to the government’s rail strategy, the benefits of electric trains include increased reliability, quieter journeys and cleaner travel that will also help reduce the cost of running and maintaining the railway. Another benefit of lighter electric trains is the fact they cause an average of 13 per cent less wear to the tracks, which results in a reduction in infrastructure maintenance costs. Moreover, electric trains have a higher power-toweight ratio, which means they are faster than diesel trains, accelerate more quickly and time-savings are made by a reduction in dwell times with electric doors rather than HST slam doors.

“With the number of people travelling on Great Western there is a recognised need for improvement; and maintenance works that will cater for the increasing number of passengers who will be using the network, both now and over the next 25 years,” says James Davis, Media Relations Manager at Great Western Railway.

“When it comes to long-term improvements, an electric railway is more sustainable than a diesel service. The electrification of the line and the addition of the new bi-mode Intercity Express Trains, due from this Summer will result in more services per hour, more seats and a reduction in journey times. Moreover, our new electric/ bi mode fleet, which can alternate between electric and diesel depending on the extent of electrification, means that these trains can continue onto non-electrified routes such as between Cardiff and Swansea, or past Didcot and towards Oxford and the North Cotswolds.

“It is not just about electrification though, it is wider route modernisation and improved signaling systems, which will ensure greater resilience – allowing us to further enhance the punctuality and reliability of our services.” With more frequent and faster journeys for customers at the heart of the modernisation programme, technology plays a leading role and in 2015 Worldline, the European leader in the payments and transactional services industry, was contracted to help increase capacity and modernise the service by delivering the digital platform, Integrale.

Integrale is a data analytics tool developed by Worldline that predicts events across the rail network and flags early to train controllers for effective resource planning and timetables. It gives controllers real-time access to operating information across the network so they can respond and resolve issues that occur much faster.

The main areas in which Great Western will realise the benefits of adopting Integrale are through better management of staff and resources, early handling of potential issues and streamlining of control processes.

The Integrale Implementation and Support contract with Great Western Railway will run until 31st March 2019. Commenting on the GWR Programme Cost Manager Karen Cleveland said: “Great Western implemented the Integrale digital platform from Worldline as an initiative to modernise the management of the network and ensure services updated in real time are better tracked.

“The new digital platform gives real time information on train operations for the Great Western controllers across the entire network which should help manage the network, especially during times of disruption; it better links the three main functions of running the network – stock, crew and journey. Integrale enables Control to have greater daily plan transparency across the business and the flexibility to cope with upcoming fleet cascades.”

Alongside all of the improvements mentioned above, GWR is also recruiting more staff for customerfacing roles and has introduced dedicated customer ambassadors at key stations throughout the route who will aid customers with local information, directions and onward travel options.

With in excess of 100 route miles to electrify, and thousands of trains to run while work is completed, GWR and Network Rail face a busy and challenging year ahead. However, once completed, these improvement works will offer major benefits for all customers when it comes to reliability and higher quality trains and stations, while also significantly improving air quality in pollution hotspots.

“It is our aim to revalue rail in the hearts and minds of those travelling and the British public. There is a significant amount of investment coming onto the Great Western network over the next five years, which is required to continue improving on the service we provide for customers; what is happening at the moment, is the greatest investment in the Great Western since it was originally built by Brunel, enabling us to offer a step change in rail travel, and continue to make the improvements that we know our customers want to see,” James concludes.