FirstGroup will run the Great Western Railway franchise until at least June 2021 under the Emergency Measures Agreement after the Department for Transport opted to extend the deal.

It means all revenue and cost risks from GWR will be held by the Government until at least June next year, the train operator’s parent company said in a statement to the London Stock Exchange.

Aberdeen-based FirstGroup welcomed the DfT’s decision to extend the agreement in the City update.

EMAs were introduced for all of Britain’s rail franchises in March to keep trains running despite the collapse in demand caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

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The DfT has an option to further extend the FirstGroup arrangement before the end of the new EMA period next year.

Matthew Gregory, FirstGroup chief executive, said: “This demonstrates the essential nature of GWR’s services to the communities it serves, and provides important clarity and continuity for our customers, employees and wider stakeholders.

"Across the network we are increasing service levels to provide more capacity as schools recommence and work and leisure facilities reopen, and we are taking all necessary steps to ensure our passengers continue to travel safely."

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He said: “This includes running services with more carriages to allow for distancing, enhanced cleaning and sanitisation of our trains and ensuring more customer-facing employees are readily available.”

GWR’s initial EMA was signed on the same day as a new franchise agreement in March, using a different process from other franchises, which are due to see their agreements expire on September 20.

FirstGroup said “discussions are under way” with the DfT about what will happen to the franchises involving operators including South Western Railway and TransPennine Express.

EMAs involve the DfT waiving franchise holders’ revenue and cost risks, while paying them a fixed fee for running services. Shares in FirstGroup closed down five per cent at 41.44p.