SNCF joins bid for West Coast Partnership

IT HAS been revealed that French state operator SNCF has joined Stagecoach and Virgin in a consortium bidding to run the West Coast Partnership, which is due to start in 2019 and is also intended to run trains on Phase 1 of HS2 from 2026. All three have been working on the expression of interest, which was lodged with the Department for Transport yesterday (Monday).
SNCF will have a 30 per cent stake. ‘Thrilled’ Virgin said the agreement would put the consortium in the ‘best possible position’ to win the franchise but the RMT has condemned the plan, calling for the next West Coast franchise to be publicly owned.
Virgin becomes the minority partner, as it already is on East Coast, with a holding of 20 per cent. Stagecoach will have the remaining 50 per cent.
SNCF chairman and CEO Guillaume Pepy said: “SNCF has a long-standing commitment of 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.”
Virgin Trains co-chairman Patrick McCall also welcomed the French stake: “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.
“We’ve always focused on customers, introducing many UK firsts such as tilting trains, automatic compensation for delays, M-Ticketing and free films and TV on-board. We’re thrilled about the prospect of continuing and improving this record of innovation.”
Stagecoach Group will have the largest stake, with 50 per cent. The company’s chief executive 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.”
However, the RMT is critical. The union’s general secretary Mick Cash described the move as a ‘land grab’, saying: “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.”
The partners will now prepare for the Invitation to Tender, which is expected to be issued to qualified bidders by the end of this year.

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