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First Welcomes Thames and Integrated Kent News

Monday 22 December 2003

FirstGroup plc today welcomed the SRAs announcement that the company would be delivering the wider benefits package on the Thames franchise and that it was one of four companies to pre-qualify for the Integrated Kent franchise.

However, First said it was extremely disappointed the company had not won the Greater Anglia franchise.

Commenting, Chief Executive Moir Lockhead, said:

"We have now won two out of the three most recent franchises we have been bidding for. However, were extremely sorry that weve not been awarded the new Greater Anglia franchise, especially as First Great Eastern and Anglia Railways have established an excellent record for customer service, performance and service development.

"We congratulate National Express on securing the new franchise and give our commitment to passengers that we will continue to run the best possible service for the remainder of the existing franchise.

"I would like to thank the First Great Eastern and Anglia Railways teams for the achievements they have delivered over the last 7 years. "

The wider benefits package for the Thames franchise which First will take over in April will extend passenger benefits to existing First Great Western customers across the South West, South Wales, Cotswolds and the Thames Valley.

Moir Lockhead said: "I am confident that we can provide Thames customers with a train service that will combine improved punctuality and enhanced customer service. "

For further information please contact:

Moir Lockhead, Chief Executive Tel: 01224 650102
Michael Mitchell, Corporate Communications Director Tel: 020 7291 0504
Martin Helm, Public Relations Adviser Tel: 020 7291 0507

Notes to editors:

1. The wider benefits package selected by the SRA for the Thames franchise includes:

* Improved operational performance leading to better punctuality and reliability
* Extending customer service best practice to all services and stations
* Investment in employees training and development with a stronger management focus
* A higher priority for the fundamentals such as cleanliness, security and information provision
* A fully integrated and restructured timetable with improved performance and increased capacity
* A new electric Paddington-Heathrow service with local station stops, operated as a joint venture with the British Airports Authority
* Intercity service quality with 125mph trains on most Thames express services from Hereford, Worcester, Oxford, Didcot, Theale, Hungerford, Newbury, Reading and Slough
* Less overcrowding
* Faster and more frequent services between London Paddington and Taunton, Tiverton, Exeter, Devon and Cornwall
* Extra capacity to Bristol and South Wales with additional High Speed Trains
* Additional 125mph trains throughout the day
* A clearer and more focused management approach to platform capacity at Reading and London Paddington
* A stronger dialogue with customers and stakeholders
* Better management and staff performance at times of disruption
* Better transport integration

The principal timetable changes which will lead to these improvements will take place in December 2004.

2. The combined First Great Western and Thames Trains franchise will run until 2006 when the SRA will create a Greater Western franchise, incorporating the present First Great Western, Thames Trains and Wessex Trains franchises.

3. As well as First Great Western, First will operate the new TransPennine Express franchise from 1 February. Additionally it has pre-qualified for the ScotRail franchise, has been shortlisted for the new Northern franchise and, has today pre-qualified for the new Integrated Kent franchise.

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