Rival Scottish transport operators FirstGroup and Stagecoach Group are involved in a three-way battle to run the UK’s new high-speed trains.
Aberdeen-based FirstGroup has teamed up with Italian company Trenitalia in one bid for the new West Coast Partnership (WCP), comprising west coast intercity services from April 1, 2019, and High Speed Two (HS2) operations from 2026.
Stagecoach, headquartered in Perth, has joined forces with long-time partner Virgin and French rail operator SNCF in another.
The third contender in the race is a partnership between Hong Kong firm MTR and Guangshen Railway Company, based in China, as well as several sub-contractors.
Announcing the shortlist of bidders yesterday, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said he was looking forward to seeing the bidders’ “innovative ideas to put passengers at the heart of the railway”.
The first phase of HS2 – between London and Birmingham – is scheduled to open in December 2026, with a second Y-shaped phase launching in two stages. Phase 2a from the West Midlands to Crewe will open in 2027, followed by Phase 2b from Crewe to Manchester, and Birmingham to Leeds.
Legislation for the first phase passed its final hurdle in Parliament in January, while a Bill to give HS2 Ltd the power to build Phase 2a is part of the UK Government’s programme for the next two years.
FirstGroup said it was well-positioned, along with its Italian partner, to “develop a completely new customer proposition” both on the west coast services and through “the exciting opportunity” the franchise offers to design and run initial services on HS2.
Steve Montgomery, managing director of the group’s rail arm, added: “We have a strong track record in delivering continued modernisation and investment, alongside industry partners, through our rail operating companies Great Western Railway, TransPennine Express and rail operator of the year Hull Trains.”