Cardiff Breakfast Club 19th November – Ben Rule, First Great Western

Posted: November 25, 2014 in Cardiff Breakfast Club
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Ben Rule, Operations Director for First Great Western

This month we were joined by Operations Director for First Great Western, Ben Rule. Ben was appointed as Operations Director in June 2013 having started his railway career in 1997 with signalling and operational management roles in Railtrack and Network Rail. In his role at First Great Western he is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the railway and manages 3,500 front-line staff.

Ben began his speech to the Breakfast Club by explaining how First Group is one of the largest and most complicated franchises in the country, facilitating 97 million passenger journeys a year. The company currently provides 9,500 services a week, an increase of over 1000 since 2007. First Great Western owns one of the oldest and most diverse train fleets in the country, with a 125mph service operating between London and South Wales.

The company is currently implementing a number of timetable improvements, with the ultimate aim of improving performance whilst balancing factors such as cost. Ben explained that for customers, performance is the key factor. However, “upgrades mean long-term benefits but short term challenges”. This is true of a temporary closure of Severn Tunnel Junction next year and Ben explained how double tracks have been reopened between Gloucester and South Wales to ensure that accessibility is still at the highest possible level.

first-great-western-001

First Great Western are continually striving to improve services

According to Ben, First Great Western are not satisfied by their current 83% customer satisfaction rate, but acknowledge that it is a significant increase on the 78% that they were scoring in 2007 before the launch of their ‘I’m a Great Westerner’ campaign. Ben also made reference to new features aimed at improving customers’ experiences, such as free wifi on all trains by spring 2015. First Great Western is now also the only train operator in the country to offer a Pullman’s Dining Service.

Ben also spoke of the company’s plans to upgrade existing first class carriages whilst reducing their numbers, in order to increase carriage numbers in standard class. The company hope that by increasing capacity and continuing to offer incentives (such as decreased ticket prices) to travel at less busy times, overcrowding problems on some of their trains will be reduced.

Concluding his presentation, Ben explained First Group’s main aim of “trying to put ourselves back at the heart of communities, particularly in South Wales.” With continued improvements to services he hopes that rail travel will remain popular and provide easy travel for business populations throughout the UK.

The next Breakfast Club will be held on 11th December with guest speaker Sarah Powell, Chief Executive Officer of Sport Wales. For further information and booking details, please contactsusannah@petersenspr.com or phone 02920 549597.

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