France’s SNCF joins Stagecoach, Virgin West Coast bid

Stagecoach Group and Virgin Group announced they are joining forces with French high speed rail operator SNCF to bid for the UK’s West Coast Partnership rail franchise.

The UK Government has announced that the West Coast Partnership franchise will run from 2019. 

Stagecoach’s rival FirstGroup and Italy’s Trenitalia UK announced in January they would bid together for the West Coast Partnership franchise.

The West Coast Partnership franchise will include current West Coast services and the first few years of operation of High Speed 2 (HS2) services.

Stagecoach has a 50% share in the bid vehicle, West Coast Partnership Limited, with a 30% share held by SNCF and the remaining 20% owned by Virgin.  

It is envisaged that services under a successful bid would carry the Virgin brand.

Stagecoach has a 49% shareholding in Virgin Rail Group, which operates the current West Coast rail franchise, and a 90% shareholding in Virgin Trains East Coast, which operates the East Coast rail franchise.

Stagecoach CEO Martin Griffiths 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 new franchise has an important role to play in delivering the improvements and space on our railway that can support our communities and economy.

“Together, we have a very strong track record of working effectively with other rail partners and infrastructure providers, as well as using cutting edge technology to achieve a step change in customer service.”

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.”

SNCF CEO Guillaume Pepy 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. 

“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. 

“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.”

Virgin, Stagecoach and SNCF have already worked on the first stage of their West Coast Partnership bid, the “Expression of Interest”, which has been submitted.

They will now prepare for the “Invitation to Tender” which is expected to be issued by the end of the year.