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First Great Western Rail

Updated on April 15, 2010

First Great Western is a rail company operating in the UK.  They run services throughout the south-west of England and south Wales which link up with London at London Paddington.  I have had experiences of much of the First Great Western network and so will include my own personal experiences and review of the network in this article.


First Great Western run mainline trains from London Paddington to the south-west of England and to west Wales.  These lines were designed and built by the famous Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel.  The more minor routes were created at various stages in the Victorian era, before they were all brought together into the British Rail family.  Upon privatisation in 1998 the old British Rail was split up into a number of franchises across the country and over time First Great Western have gained the rights to run services throughout south-west England, south Wales and through to London.  This has resulted in two main high speed intercity mainlines – one to south Wales and one to south west England, as well as a number of other more minor routes. 

A First Great Western intercity train heading towards the Severn Tunnel from South Wales.  Photo courtesy of mattbuck4950 and distributed under Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike License.
A First Great Western intercity train heading towards the Severn Tunnel from South Wales. Photo courtesy of mattbuck4950 and distributed under Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike License.

Line from south Wales to London Paddington

The trains from south Wales to London Paddington can start in several places – the most westerly point being Carmarthen.  From here trains run through Swansea and Cardiff Central and Newport before going under the Severn estuary through the Severn Tunnel, as the train in the picture in the right is about to do.  After here the trains call at Bristol Parkway which is a relatively new station built in the north of the city to provide a stopping point for London Paddington to south Wales trains in Bristol.  From here the trains run to Swindon, Didcot Parkway and Reading before arriving at London Paddington. 

Line from Penzance to London Paddington

The first mainline route that First Great Western runs goes from Penzance in Cornwall through to London Paddington.  Despite it being a relatively long journey time, it is a very good journey.  The railway runs alongside the coast after leaving Penzance and so it is possible to see St. Michael’s Mount and Penzance Bay.  The railway continues towards Plymouth, on it’s way stopping at several Cornish stations including St Erth (change here for St Ives), Truro (change here for Falmouth), St Austell, Bodmin Parkway and Par (change here for Newquay).  After leaving Plymouth the train heads towards Exeter St. David’s.  On it’s way it passes through Newton Abbott.  This part of the journey also has what must be one of the most spectacular bits of railway in the UK – the railway is so close to the sea it is actually located at the base of the cliff!  After leaving Exeter St David’s trains to London go one of two ways.  They either go the short route to Reading via Castle Carey or they go the longer route via Taunton, Bristol Temple Meads, Swindon and the Reading.  From reading trains generally run direct to London Paddington.  

Other lines

First Great Western also manage smaller lines which connect towns throughout the south-west of England and south Wales to the main line.  The Atlantic Coast Line (Par to Newquay), Looe Valley Line (Liskeard to Looe), Tarka Line (Exeter to Barnstaple) and Avocet Line (Exeter to Exmouth) are just a few such lines.

My review of First Great Western

Firstly let me tell you how much I have used First Great Western quite a lot.  For the last three years I have probably used at least one of their trains about once a fortnight.  In addition, my journeys aren’t all on the same train, at the same time, on the same route and so I feel that I am able to give a very good overview of First Great Western as a transport provider.  In addition, I have used a variety of tickets such as advance singles and open returns and both standard and first class.

Here is a brief overview of some of the railway journeys I have recently made to give an idea of how much experience I have of First Great Western: 

  • London Paddington to Bristol Parkway on a Friday evening.
  • Bristol Parkway to London Paddington on a Saturday lunchtime.
  • London Paddington to Penzance on a Friday evening.
  • Penzance to London Paddington on a Monday morning.
  • Filton Abbey Wood to Southampton Central during the day on a Friday.
  • A return midweek journey from Bristol Parkway to Bath.
  • Reading to Barnstaple on a Monday morning.
  • A return journey from Falmouth Town to Truro during the week.
  • A return journey from Penmere to St Ives.

As can be seen I have travelled extensively using the First Great Western network – in fact the only area I haven’t really travelled in is south Wales.  Out of all my journeys I have only really had two with which there were problems and these are mentioned in detail below. 

Bristol Parkway to Penmere (Cornwall)

This journey occurred on a Monday morning in rush hour.  It is a good place to start in this review of First Great Western since it involved three trains all First Great Western.  The first journey was from Bristol Parkway to Bristol Temple Meads on a small commuter train and due to it being early on Monday morning the train was quite crowded.  However this is to be expected for such an early morning train and the train got to Bristol Temple Meads on time.  The next train left Bristol Temple Meads on time and this was a mainline train.  As I had booked in advance I had a reservation and so was able to sit down and relax.  Despite leaving on time it got delayed during the journey and so was late getting into Truro.  About 15 minutes before arriving in Truro the train manager announced that the connection was going to be missed and to speak to a First Great Western representative at Truro station.  This I did, and to my surprise we were put in taxis to complete our journey.  So whilst I was slightly annoyed at being late, at least First Great Western had gone to the trouble of providing taxis which I considered to be good customer service. 

Penzance to Bristol Parkway

This train departed Penzance on time and all appeared to be well – that was until we approached Plymouth and started to have issues.  The train kept stopping – however every time the train stopped the driver or train manager would explain over the intercom what was going on.  We eventually managed to get to Plymouth but we were late and were informed that the train would have to terminate at Plymouth and change onto a later train.  However, everyone’s disappointment and anger was tempered somewhat since by practically every train door there was someone from First Great Western who was handing out vouchers and leaflets on how to claim a refund on the price of the rail ticket due to the delay as well as refreshments.  Very good customer service.  The later train arrived and everyone got on it and all was good.  

These are two examples of what I consider to be good customer service by First Great Western as they managed to improve on what was a bad situation.  I also feel First Great Western have some very good offers on train tickets – especially if bought in advance but prices of rail transportation in the UK could be a whole article in itself so I am not going to go into that now!   

If you are considering travelling in the south-west of England or south Wales I would highly recommend using First Great Western.  In addition, if travelling between London and south Wales/the westcountry the mainline First Great Western services out of London Paddington are actually quite quick and possibly even faster than flying.  


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    • BristolBoy profile image

      BristolBoy 8 years ago from Bristol

      M Haines, I think you managed to get confused by the nature of this article - it was not written by First Great Western, or anyone affiliated in any way to First Great Western Rail. It seems like you have problems with your journey - are you sure this is the fault of First Great Western and not Network Rail or the government not investing to increase capacity?

    • profile image

      M Haines  8 years ago

      Why do I have to stand in the train from Salisbury to Swindon?

      That is if I can actually get on the train.Why is it that I have to wait longer than your time table states for the connection to and from Salisbury? Why do you feel it necessary to only have 2 carriages running when there is clearly a need for more?So, I have changed my travelling arrangements as I find your service incompatible to a journey that should be for me and many others a straight forward outing.Please,in the future, you may find yours and our lives a little easier if you looked at some events that happen in and around the area. Then perhaps you could make extra carriages available.I do not need to pay to stand on a train or to be informed that a service is late or cancelled. If these statements are not to your liking then I suggest you find a different occupation.In addition I would like to say apart from the above, I have found your service impeccable.Yet I still wonder why I and others must leave Wiltshire, leave the train and then board another to get back to Wiltshire.Yet I can travel to London from Salisbury and not have to change trains.Please have a nice day, unless you must get to Swindon from Salisbury on a Saturday.

    • BristolBoy profile image

      BristolBoy 8 years ago from Bristol

      2patricias thanks for commenting! The Great Western Railway, which now has trains run by First Great Western is very impressive including such things as the Box Tunnel and the section of rail by the river! And Im sure Pat isnt that old!

    • 2patricias profile image

      2patricias 8 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

      Both of us use trains, but Pat goes on more long-distance journeys than Tricia. We both like the relaxation of not driving, but wish that train fares were a bit lower.

      Pat has travelled to St Ives by train (from our local station), and last year from Dawlish Warren into Exeter.

      A very long time ago (just after the dinosaurs left) Pat actually lived in Exeter.

      There was a time (even before Pat in Exeter) when the name was Great Western Railways and it was affectionately known as 'God's Wonderful Railway.'

      Thanks for an interesting Hub.