The UK's largest rail operator has set its eyes on Virgin's Cross Country franchise, it announced yesterday.
FirstGroup promised an overhaul of stations and services after winning the right yesterday to run two rail networks - the Greater Western and Thameslink/Greater Northern (WAGN) franchises.
The networks, serving Paddington and the West Country and including routes through the Midlands, are used by 150 million passengers a year.
The rail operator said it would invest £200 million in services while putting £52 million into commuter-based routes covering East Anglia and towns to the north of the capital.
It will pay £1.9 billion to the Department for Transport to run the services from April, but stands to net £1 billion a year in revenues. It already operates high speed and local stopping services out of Paddington but will gain Wessex routes as part of an expanded Greater Western franchise.
Among its plans are new cross- Bristol services, including through-trains between Worcester and Taunton.
The announcement makes FirstGroup, which already operates TransPennine Express, First ScotRail and Hull trains, the UK's largest rail operator, carrying more than 260 million passengers per year.
Chief executive Moir Lockhead said it planned to bid for the franchises for Virgin Cross Country, which covers large parts of the Midlands, plus South West Trains and Midland Mainline which come up for tender in 2006.