The Anonymous Widower

Are First Group Moving Towards Zero-Carbon?

My post, which was entitled Suppliers Sought For New Bi-Mode Locomotives For TransPennine Express And Great Western Railway, prompted me to ask the question in the title of this post.

This factsheet for First Bus says that all their buses will be zero-carbon by 2035.

This factsheet for First Rail says this about Decarbonising Rail Travel.

FirstGroup’s ambition is to be the partner of choice for low or zero emission transport. We recently became the first UK rail and bus operator to formally commit to setting an ambitious science-based target for reaching net zero emissions by 2050 or earlier.

First Rail leads the sector in decarbonisation, including the introduction of bi-mode diesel and electric powered trains which allow us to make best use of electrified networks. We have signed up to the Government’s challenge to take all diesel-only trains out of service by 2040.

GWR has recently taken delivery of the UK’s first tri-mode train which can use overhead wires, third rail or diesel power. Sustainability is at the heart of the NRCs and both SWR and TPE will develop a decarbonisation policy and roadmap towards net zero emissions in accordance with this goal. New all-electric and bi-mode trains will be introduced by Avanti to replace diesel only trains in the current fleet.

Both these factsheets appear to have been written in 2021.

The zero-carbon status of each of First Group’s rail companies is as follows.

Avanti West Coast

The mainstay of Avanti West Coast are fifty-six Class 390 electric trains.

Twenty Class 221 diesel trains are being replaced by ten new Class 807 electric trains and thirteen new Class 805 bi-mode trains.

Great Western Railway

The mainstay of Great Western Railway are a mixture of ninety-three Class 800 and Class 802 bi-mode trains.

They also have thirty-three Class 387 electric trains working London commuter routes.

There are a large assortment of ninety-four diesel trains of various classes working rural routes and local services in Bristol, Exeter, Oxford and Plymouth. There are a lot of these trains in the UK and I suspect that a nationwide solution will be developed.

There are thirty-five Class 43 diesel locomotives, that power the shortened InterCity 125 trains in the South-West. I wrote about converting these to hydrogen in Will We See Class 43 Power Cars Converted To Hydrogen?

Four Class 57 diesel locomotives that haul the Night Riviera are covered by the request for suppliers, that prompted me to write this post.

South Western Railway

The mainstay of South Western Railway are a mixture of around  three hundred electric trains.

There are also ten Class 158 diesel trains and thirty Class 159 diesel trains. There are a lot of these trains in the UK and I suspect that a nationwide solution will be developed.

TransPennine Express

The mainstay of TransPennine Express are nineteen Class 802 bi-mode trains and twelve Class 397 electric trains.

There are also fifty-one Class 185 diesel trains.

Fourteen Class 68 diesel locomotives that haul coaches are covered by the request for suppliers, that prompted me to write this post.

Hull Trains

Hull Trains have a fleet of five Class 802 bi-mode trains.


Lumo have a fleet of five Class 803 electric trains.

The service is also sold on the basis of its low-carbon footprint.


First Group would appear top have a fair way to go towards full decarbonisation.

  • They have around a hundred-and-thirty Hitachi bi-mode trains. Research is ongoing to replace some diesel engines with batteries.
  • They have a lot of diesel trains and locomotives, that are still in front-line service.
  • They have the tricky problem of the Class 43 locomotives, which I suspect will result in a nationwide solution.

But at least they have started by requesting proposals to replace the other diesel locomotives.

January 23, 2022 - Posted by | Transport/Travel | , , , , , , , ,


  1. the HSTs will surely be scrapped. They were new when I lived in S Wales in 1976. Scotrail want to get rid of theirs by 2030. The SW is the most problematic of the English regions for decarbonisation, as there’s no chance of electrification any time soon (completing to Bristol would be a priority for me, but the DfT doesn’t seem to agree), and the distances are too great for current battery range. Using bi-modes is a good interim solution, as their diesels are much less polluting and noisy than the old HSTs. But they ain’t zero-carbon. Perhaps partial electrification might be a solution, but I think we’ll have to wait and see what strategy GBR comes up with.

    I expect First are thinking that they’ll have a better chance of winning contracts with GBR if they can offer lower carbon solutions.

    Comment by Peter Robins | January 23, 2022 | Reply

  2. I am not so sure they will be scrapped, because of their iconic status. I myself don’t mind, one way or the other, but in some areas of the UK short-formation InterCity 125 running on hydrogen could be an attraction to get people out of their cars.

    Network Rail, also have the problem of what to power the flying banana. Two hydrogen-powered Class 43s would surely be ideal.

    Comment by AnonW | January 23, 2022 | Reply

  3. Using bi-modes is not only a good interim solution it’s a pragmatic one. The governments challenge is to rid the network of diesel-only trains by 2040 and if replacements for HST are really required by 2030 that’s a few more years for the battery and hydrogen technology to mature.
    I’m curious about the trend to head end and push pull train consists. Have permanent way engineers just stopped objecting to the added wear and tear, have Network Rail decided that the cost of maintenance is no impediment, or has everybody accepted the invariable increase in capital cost arising from sophisticated vehicle design that comes with mitigating the rate of track damage otherwise done by locomotives and HST sets.
    The Williams-Shapp report doesn’t tell us much about future rolling stock procurement, but with an intention for franchises to be replaced by Service Provision Contracts and from the way DfT has been behaving, I can see future operators of SPCs having less influence on future specification of rolling stock technology.
    As for AnonW’s iconic HST’s, they’re only iconic to people of a certain age.
    When it comes to the Flying Banana, or rather the converted HST and its four supporting trainsets, they’ll probably be around until 2030. Maybe the NMT, as it’s formally known, will be replaced with increasing miniaturisation monitoring systems with their improved computing power. This offers the potential for such equipment together with remote measurement systems to be fitted to service trains. The need for a dedicated infrastructure-monitoring fleet may be changed forever.

    Comment by fammorris | January 24, 2022 | Reply

    • on the subject of procurement, one of the reasons given for setting up GBR was to simplify the process. I’ve just been reading which I think is a good summary of the many issues, and concludes “Getting GBR on track will not be easy.” It doesn’t mention decarbonisation, but it’s is a large and complicated (and expensive) project, and having a major reorg lasting several years doesn’t help.

      Comment by Peter Robins | January 25, 2022 | Reply

      • The Spectator magazine may have made known its opposition to the Institute for Government which has been described as “a Gatsby trust fund baby, so-called because it is bankrolled with Sainsbury money: truly non-partisan, concerned only with improving government.” Personally that’ll do for me, just the sort of organisation to listen to.
        The Institute have in my opinion made a good fist of setting out:
        where we presently are,
        what the objectives should allowing for policy constraints as they’re currently understood,
        what problems exist along the way and
        how government can help make it a success.
        The trouble for me is that, Donald Rumsfeld aside, the very people who try to resolve such issues have little appreciation of the concept of ‘Overdetermination’ and that it particularly applies to structures that ultimately depend on politicians. In engineering or mathematical parlance a system is considered overdetermined if there are more equations than unknowns; the law of unintended consequences?

        Comment by fammorris | January 25, 2022

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