First North Western

First North Western

Franchise(s): North West Regional Railways
2 Mar 1997 - 11 Dec 2004
Main region(s): North West England
North Wales
Other region(s): London
Fleet size: 184
Stations called at: 247
National Rail abbreviation: NW
Parent company: FirstGroup

First North Western[1] was a train operating company in England owned by FirstGroup, that operated the North West Regional Railways franchise from March 1997 until December 2004.


In the lead up to the privatisation of British Rail, the North Western section of Regional Railways was established. For a brief period from 1989, this section was operated under the short-lived Network NorthWest brand name,[2][3] before becoming North West Regional Railways. The franchise was awarded by the Director of Passenger Rail Franchising to Great Western Holdings ,[4][5] with operations commencing on 2 March 1997 under the North West Trains brand.[6]

On 27 October 1997, a new livery of dark blue with a gold star was unveiled.[7][8] In March 1998, First bought out the other shareholders in Great Western Holdings.[9][10] The business was rebranded from North Western Trains to First North Western in November 1998 with First’s corporate blue, pink and white livery adopted.[11][12]


First North Western operated a mix of urban and rural passenger services in North West England and North Wales, radiating out from Manchester to Birmingham, Chester, Holyhead, Liverpool, Blackpool North, Windermere and Sheffield.[13]

In May 1998, North Western Trains commenced services from Manchester Airport and Rochdale to London Euston.[14][15][16] The Manchester Airport service ceased in May 1999.[17][18] and the Rochdale service in May 2000.[19]

From May 2003, services from Manchester ceased operating south of Stoke-on-Trent and Crewe.[20]

Rolling stock

First North Western inherited a fleet of Mark 2 carriages, Class 101, 142, 150, 156 and 158 diesel multiple units, and Class 309 and 323 electric multiple units.

To operate the Manchester Airport to London Euston services, Class 322s were hired from West Anglia Great Northern.[21]

First North Western ordered 11 two-carriage and 16 three-carriage Class 175 Coradias to replace the Mark 2 carriages, Class 101s and Class 309s.[22] Originally some were to be 125 mph capable Class 180 Adelantes but this was later changed to an all Class 175 fleet.[23]

Problems with the Class 175s saw locomotive hauled trains reinstated on North Wales services from June 2002, with English Welsh & Scottish Class 47s and First Great Western Mark 2 carriages.[24]

In February 2004, Class 31s were hired from Fragonset to top and tail Mark 2 carriages on Blackpool to Chester services.[25]

Class Image Type Top speed Number Built
mph km/h
101 Diesel multiple unit 75 120 6 1956-1959
142 Diesel multiple unit 75 120 79 1985-1987
150 Diesel multiple unit 75 120 27 1984-1987
153 Diesel multiple unit 75 120 8 1987-1988
156 Diesel multiple unit 75 120 18 1987-1989
158 Diesel multiple unit 90 145 8 1989-1992
175 Coradia Diesel multiple unit 100 160 27 1999-2001
322 Electric multiple unit 100 160 4 1990
323 Electric multiple unit 90 145 17 1992-1993


North Western Trains liveried Class 153 at Carlisle station in August 2004

First North Western's diesel fleet was maintained at Newton Heath Depot, and the electric fleet at Lonsight Depot. The Class 175s were maintained at a purpose built depot in Chester.


In 2000, the Strategic Rail Authority announced that it planned to create a new TransPennine Express franchise transferring First North Western's Barrow-in-Furness and Windermere services, with the North Wales Coast Line services transferred to a new Wales & Borders franchise and the remaining services combined those of Arriva Trains Northern to form a new Northern Rail franchise.[26][27][28]

On 28 September 2003, the North Wales Coast Line services transferred to Wales & Borders.

In July 2003, the Strategic Rail Authority awarded the TransPennine franchise to FirstGroup/Keolis with services operated by First North Western transferring to First TransPennine Express on 1 February 2004.[29]

In July 2004, the Strategic Rail Authority awarded the Northern franchise to Serco-Abellio with the remaining services operated by First North Western transferring to Northern Rail on 12 December 2004.[30]


  1. Companies House extract company no 3007946 North Western Trains Company Limited
  2. "Summary of Events: 1986 to 2002". Museum of Transport Greater Manchester. Archived from the original on 11 November 2011. Retrieved 30 June 2014.
  3. "Network Northwest". Rail. EMAP (93): 39. 6 April 1989. ISSN 0953-4563.
  4. "Great Western set to win North West franchise" Rail issue 298 12 February 1997 page 7
  5. "Great Western Holdings nets North West Regional Railways" The Railway Magazine issue 1152 April 1997 page 7
  6. "Now it's North Western Trains" The Railway Magazine issue 1153 May 1997 page 12
  7. "North Western Trains launches new look" Rail issue 317 5 November 1997 page 7
  8. "North Western Trains launches gold trains" Rail Express issue 19 1 December 1997 page 7
  9. Rail bosses cash in on privatised gravy train The Independent 7 March 1998
  10. FirstGroup Annual Report 31 March 1999 First Group plc
  11. "GWT to be renamed First Great Western" The Railway Magazine issue 1172 December 1998 page 4
  12. "It's First North Western" Rail issue 345 2 December 1998 page 14
  13. Timetables First North Western 29 November 1999
  14. "New Blackpool-London services to start this May" Rail issue 322 14 January 1998 page 10
  15. "Rochdale NWT London service" Rail issue 323 28 January 1998 page 16
  16. "North Western Trains announces London services" The Railway Magazine issue 1163 March 1998 page 73
  17. "FNW cuts Euston-Manchester service" Rail issue 355 21 April 1999 page 13
  18. "First North Western to axe Manchester-London service" The Railway Magazine issue 1178 June 1999 page 9
  19. "Rochdale-London to be axed" The Railway Magazine issue 1186 February 2000 page 6
  20. First North Western Announces Minimal Service Changes First North Western May 2003
  21. "NWT livery for Class 322 Stansted units" Rail issue 329 22 April 1998 page 12
  22. "FirstGroup signs for its 110 new GEC DMUs" Rail issue 332 3 June 1998 page 9
  23. "First North Western drops plans for 125mph DMUs" The Railway Magazine issue 1176 April 1999 page 9
  24. First North Western
  25. "Loco fade-out at Blackpool" The Railway Magazine issue 1246 February 2005 page 11
  26. "TransPennine TOC to be created by SSRA puts five franchises up for sale early" The Railway Magazine issue 1189 May 2000 page 37
  27. The Trans-Pennine Express rail franchise Yorkshire & The Humber Transport Activist's Roundtable Briefing Note October 2001
  28. The Wales and Borders Franchise House of Commons Select Committee on Welsh Affairs Third Report 17 March 2004
  29. SRA Announce Preferred Bidder for TransPennine Express Franchise Strategic Rail Authority Press Release 28 July 2003
  30. Serco joint venture selected as preferred bidder for Northern Rail train operating franchise Serco Group 1 July 2004

Media related to First North Western at Wikimedia Commons

Preceded by
Regional Railways
(Network NorthWest)
As part of British Rail
Operator of the North West Regional Railways franchise
1997 - 2004
Succeeded by
Wales & Borders
North Wales Coast services
Succeeded by
First TransPennine Express
TransPennine franchise
Succeeded by
Northern Rail
Northern franchise
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