State-owned rail operator SNCF, Stagecoach and Virgin Trains have launched a joint bid for the franchise that includes running HS2 trains to the Midlands, in a move labelled a ‘land grab by the French state’ by a rail union.
The three firms have submitted an ‘expression of interest’ as the first stage of bidding for the West Coast Partnership, the combined West Coast / HS2 franchise. . The shareholding for the bid is Stagecoach 50%, SNCF 30% and Virgin 20%.
Virgin Trains pointed out that the Government has said bidders for the franchise, which will run from 2019 and will include the first few years of operation of HS2, must have high speed experience. It said that SNCF, ‘one of the world’s most recognised and capable High Speed operators brings that experience to our partnership’.
Guillaume Pepy, chairman and CEO of SNCF said: ‘This is a very exciting development for SNCF. We are world leaders in high speed rail. SNCF has a long-standing commitment of working in partnership with British companies, using their local knowledge and sharing our expertise and experience.
‘Today, we are delighted to announce this next step in our commitment to UK rail, working with partners who have demonstrated their own expertise in long distance rail services and are highly regarded in the industry. In partnership, we will deliver a successful HS2 service for the UK.’
Mick Cash, general secretary of rail union the RMT, said: ‘This is yet another land grab on Britain's railways by the French state with SNCF and Richard Branson both realising that this new franchise will be a one way ticket to the bank for whoever comes out on top in this latest UK rail lottery.
‘The integrated HS2/West Coast operation has been bought and paid for by the British people and should be run by the British state in the public interest and not by some consortium of speculators looking to make a killing at the taxpayers expense.’