Stagecoach and long time partners Virgin had been negotiating with Renfe, the Spanish state operator, but instead gave French operator a 30% stake


SNCF operates 700 high speed services per day in France


Stagecoach and Virgin have chosen French state train operator SNCF as their specialist high speed partner for their bid for the new West Coast Partnership franchise.

The British companies had also been negotiating with Renfe, the Spanish state operator, but briefings to the Spanish press indicated that Renfe had not been satisfied with the terms it was offered and did not believe the proposals would guarantee the best possible service on the route.

The incumbent British operators had been searching for a specialist high speed partner due to the Department for Transport’s stipulation that bidders must have experience of high speed rail.
The new contract will include starting services on HS2 in 2026.

The partnership means Virgin’s interest in the franchise will be scaled back if it wins the new contract. Stagecoach will have a 50% shareholding, SNCF 30% and Virgin 20%. Virgin is the majority 51% shareholder in the current West Coast franchise.

Setting out the partnership’s credentials, Virgin Trains chairman Patrick McCall said the West Coast franchise had delivered “many UK firsts such as tilting trains, automatic compensation for delays, m-ticketing and free films and TV on-board”.

The new contract will emphasise innovation and customer service as well as operational ability. Virgin also highlighted SNCF’s international experience which includes providing 27 million passenger journeys on high speed trains outside France last year, as well as operating 700 high speed services per day in France.

Meanwhile Renfe is applying for a DfT passport to enable it to bid in future franchise competitions.


This article appears in the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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