First Great Western is a company which owns the rail franchise running out of London Paddington to south-west England and south Wales as well as a number of minor routes off of the two main lines.

Line to south-west England

The first of these two main lines is the one which runs out of London Paddington Railway Station to the far south-west of England. This railway goes all the way from the terminus in London down to Penzance at the south-western tip of England in Cornwall. On a journey out of London Paddington, the railway first passes through Reading Railway Station before turning south-west and heading towards Exeter. First Great Western has trains running one of two ways to Exeter Sty David's Railway Station from Reading Railway Station – the first travels through Swindon Railway Station, Bath Railway Station, Bristol Temple Meads Railway Station and Taunton Railway Station and the second goes the more direct route through Castle Carey Railway Station and straight down to Exeter St David's Railway Station. Regardless of which route is chosen the line then heads towards Plymouth Railway Station via Newton Abbott Railway Station. Between Exeter St David's railway station and Plymouth the First great Western line hugs the coast, in several places being practically at sea level at the base of the cliffs. From Plymouth the Great Western line continues into Cornwall – it is here that the number of stations greatly increases. In total there are about eight stops in Cornwall including St Austell Railway Station, Par Railway Station (change here for services to Newquay Railway Station), Truro Railway Station (change here for services to Falmouth), St Erth Railway Station (for services to St Ives Railway Station) and finally Penzance Railway Stationwhich is the south-western terminus of the Great Western Railway.

Line to south Wales

The second mainline runs to south Wales. It again starts in London, and runs west. After leaving London Paddington it travels through Reading Railway Station, Didcot Parkway Railway Station and Swindon railway station using the same tracks that one of the First Great Western links to Cornwall used. From Swindon it then splits from the route taken by the First great Western trains to Cornwall and instead heads to Bristol Parkway railway station. From here the line runs through the Severn tunnel under the river Severn to Newport Railway Station, Cardiff Central railway Station and Swansea Railway Station.

Other lines

First Great Western have a number of other lines throughout the south-west of England and south Wales. These connect outlying towns to the First Great Western mainline network. Such towns are Falmouth and Newquay in Cornwall, Weymouth, Barnstaple, Weston-super-Mare and Pembroke Dock.

First Great Western Trains

First Great Western operates a large variety of trains across the service to take into account the large variety of routes served. There are large intercity trains which First Great Western runs on the mainline routes to south-west England and south Wales – these generally have at least 6 standard class carriages, two first class carriages and a buffet car and on certain evening services there is also a restaurant car. On the more regional lines there are smaller trains – these can be sometimes only a couple of carriages with no first class or buffet carriages. Overnight there is also a sleeper train which runs between Penzance Railway station and London Paddington Railway Station.

My experiences

I have quite a lot of experience of using First Great Western trains and so I feel I can give a good review of First Great Western. I have taken the train many times on the mainline routes, as well on a large number of the more regional lines. I often take the train out of London Paddington on a Friday evening – which is probably the busiest time. I have taken trains on both the south-Wales line (as far as Bristol Parkway Railway Station) and the south-west line (stopping off at various points including taking the train all the way from London Paddington to Penzance Railway Station). In addition, I have also taken the train in the reverse direction an equal number of times. Sometimes I have had to change to smaller trains from the mainline trains, such as when visiting Falmouth.

As with any rail service there are delays on First Great Western trains. However these are generally not all that rare (I would estimate 80% of trains arrive on time, with about 90% of trains arriving within five minutes of the scheduled arrival time). However, more importantly, when there are issues I have found First Great Western to be mostly very conscious of providing a good customer service, which is the most important factor. They always try to keep the customers notified of any delays and have in the past provided refreshments when there have been delays. They also provide compensation for trains which get delayed – I believe this is a refund on the ticket price for all journeys delayed by more than an hour (half price compensation for those journeys delayed by half an hour or more). Another thing which makes them seem very good is that they sometime hold trains when there are connections. This is particularly the case when a mainline train is calling at a station where it is possible to link onto a smaller train. An example of this is trains which run on the Maritime Line which runs from Truro to Falmouth are sometimes delayed if the train from London Paddington is delayed. Whilst this may annoy people who are on the train from Truro, the delay is often so small that it is made up by the first stop and so there is no real loss. Another thing is that like all rail companies in the UK, First Great Western will strive to get you home as quick as possible and so I have been put in taxis (some would argue First Great Western only do this to avoid paying the compensation – but even so it is at the customers advantage).

I would definitely recommend First Great Western for anyone who wants to travel between south-west England or Wales and London. The company offers very good customer service. In addition, once airport transfers and security has been taken into account it is quicker than flying and if the tickets are bough in advance they can be very cheap (even if not bought in advance they can have a a relatively low cost).