By Jonathan Davies

FirstGroup will continue to operate the Great Western rail franchise until at least 2019 after extending its government contract.

It means that FirstGroup will manage the line, which operates trains from London to South Wales and the South West, during a spell of upgrades.

Electric trains are set to be used on the Great Western lines for the first time, starting in the Thames Valley. And train capacities for peak times are to be improved. The Department for Transport (DfT) said the network will benefit from three million extra seats by 2018.

More services to Devon and Cornwall would be introduced and there will be 4,000 seats on commutes to/from London across the franchise.

The deal is worth £68m and runs from September 2015 to April 2019.

FirstGroup will also be responsible for implementing new Hitachi Intercity Express Trains between London, Bristol and South Wales and the Cotswolds from summer 2017.

FirstGroup has operated the Great Western franchise on its own since 1998, having jointly operated it two years previous.