The UK’s Department for Transport (DfT) has exercised an option to extend the emergency measures agreement (EMA) for Great Western Railway (GWR) for at least another nine months.

Devised to protect franchisees with financial assistance, the EMA was extended until 26 June 2021.

In March, the DfT signed an agreement with FirstGroup to extend GWR franchise to March 2023, including a possible one-year extension.

At that time, it was announced that the franchise will operate under EMA terms for at least six months due to the Covid-19 outbreak. The existing EMA is scheduled to expire this month.

The EMA will continue under the same terms and conditions where the DfT waived GWR’s revenue, cost and contingent capital risk. The department also pays GWR a fixed management fee with the potential for a small performance-based fee.

FirstGroup CEO Matthew Gregory said: “We welcome the news of the extension of the EMA for GWR. 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.

“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.”

The DfT retains the option to further extend the EMA beyond 26 June 2021. On the other hand, GWR has the right to take up the responsibility of operating the railway franchise with revenue risk but with protection provided though the Forecast Revenue Mechanism until at least 2023.

Owned by FirstGroup, GWR offers train services across South Wales, the West Country, the Cotswolds, and large parts of southern England.