TRANSPORT giant FirstGroup has booked a franchise extension on its Great Western Railway arm.

The Aberdeen-based multinational has been awarded a longer run, continuing its stewardship of the English network until March 2020.

The Department for Transport (DfT) made the announcement as it set out a new strategic vision for England’s railways, also revealing that it will seek to strike a new deal with FirstGroup to continue driving the operation until 2022, when a new longer term franchise is expected to go out to tender.

However, the franchise, which carries 100 million passengers a year, may be split in the future to “maintain the strongest possible focus on passengers”.

Tim O’Toole, chief executive of FirstGroup, said: “We are pleased that our strong track record at GWR is recognised, and that the DfT intend to extend the franchise and negotiate a further direct award.

“We have introduced new suburban and long distance trains with more seats, and going forward upgrade work will enable us to offer more frequent and faster services. These will help keep people moving and communities prospering across the network for generations.”