Stagecoach and Virgin will partner with French high-speed operator SNCF in their joint bid for the West Coast Partnership rail franchise, which will incorporate current West Coast and new HS2 services. The conditions of the contract outlined by the government are that the bidders must have high-speed experience and run the operation of HS2 for the first few years. In this collaboration, the shareholding is – Stagecoach, 50 percent, SNCF 30 percent and Virgin 20 percent. Ahead of the race, these train operators hope to expel the competition which so far includes First Group and Italian owned Trenitalia.
Martin Griffiths, Chief Executive of Stagecoach Group, said: "This creates a powerful world-class partnership, bringing together the team which has transformed inter-city rail travel in the UK with the most recognised and capable high speed operator in Europe."
The collaboration have said that they have a very strong track record and will use cutting edge technology to achieve a step change in customer service. SNCF is a global leader in high-speed rail and operates the largest fleet of high-speed rail journeys per day in France. With the Department for Transport stipulating that all bidders must have experience of running high-speed trains, which has obliged Virgin to bring SNCF on board.
Patrick McCall, Virgin Trains co-Chairman said: “I’m delighted that SNCF has come on board, and together we will put forward what we hope is the winning bid for the next West Coast, and first HS2, franchise. We’ve just celebrated twenty years of Virgin Trains and this news puts us in the best possible position to make it thirty."
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 to working in partnership with British companies, using their local knowledge and sharing our expertise and experience. 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. We appreciate Stagecoach’s widespread expertise across a variety of transport modes and Virgin’s reputation for its renowned customer experience. In partnership, we will deliver a successful HS2 service for the UK.”
The union general secretary for RMT, Mick Cash has argued that Britain’s rail has been contracted to private sector firms that are owned by foreign governments describing this collaboration as a French “landgrab.”
“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 taxpayer’s expense.”
Virgin, Stagecoach, and SNCF have already worked together on the first stage of the West Coast Partnership bid, the “Expression of Interest”, which was submitted yesterday. The partners will now prepare for the “Invitation to Tender” which is expected to be issued by the end of the year.
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