Virgin Trains and French operator SNCF to jointly bid for HS2 franchise

Virgin Trains and French rail operator SNCF are to jointly bid to run high-speed trains on the HS2 network.

The companies announced that they will enter the competition for the West Coast Partnership franchise, which will include services on the existing West Coast route from 2019 and initial HS2 trains between London and Birmingham from 2026.

SEE ALSO: Government says case for HS2 'strong as ever'

SEE ALSO: Hedgehogs stand in the way of HS2 plans

If the bid is successful it would increase the proportion of Britain's rail network run by overseas operators.

Half of the partnership would be owned by Stagecoach, with SNCF taking a shareholding of 30% and Virgin 20%.

Virgin Trains co-chairman Patrick McCall 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 20 years of Virgin Trains and this news puts us in the best possible position to make it 30."

Virgin Trains has operated long distance services between London and Scotland on the West Coast line since 1997. It is owned by Virgin (51%) and Stagecoach (49%).

It has introduced a number of transformations on the railways such as tilting trains, automatic compensation for delays and a Netflix-style streaming entertainment system.

Mr McCall said: "We're thrilled about the prospect of continuing and improving this record of innovation with the UK's first long-distance high-speed network, as well as with our friends and communities along the West Coast."

Union leaders have previously condemned the fact that large parts of Britain's rail network is owned by German, Dutch, French, Belgian and Italian state-owned railways.

They claim around 70% of rail routes in this country are wholly or partly owned by foreign states, with profits from fares subsidising operations abroad.

SNCF has operated France's intercity TGV service since 1981 and has the largest fleet of high-speed trains in Europe.

It runs around 700 high-speed journeys each day in France and internationally - not including Thalys or Eurostar - at speeds of up to 200mph.

The company's high speed division recorded turnover of 7.5 billion euros (£6.4 billion) last year, of which more than a quarter was from international operations.

Great railway journeys
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Great railway journeys

 Reaching heights of 3000 feet and going 100 miles the other side of the Arctic circle, this trip links Stockholm and Kiruna, in Norway. Highlights include the longest fjord in the world, Sognefjord, which is 126 miles long and 4000 feet deep. Come in the summer, and you'll experience the meaning of the term, 'land of the midnight sun'. Visit for more info.

There's no doubt that this is the most luxurious way to cross India. A steam engine drags the train out of Delhi for a week-long trip to the royal estate at Rajasthan. Along the way there's canoodling with elephants in the pink city, Jaipur, a camel safari in the desert at Jaisalmer and a tour of Agra's extraordinary Taj Mahal. Visit for more.

Beginning in Cuzco (one of South America's most enchanting cities) and winding its way along the path of the Urubamba River, Peru's famous railway line takes in colossal Andean mountains, Inca ruins and llamas galore. And that's before you get to the unbelievable lost city of Macchu Picchu. For more info, visit for info.

Great Rail Journeys offers berths on arguably the greatest passenger train on the planet, the Golden Eagle, for an astounding ride covering 11 time zones. This epic journey begins in Warsaw and ends 8,000 miles away in Vladivostock. Along the way there's a chance to go ice fishing in the world's biggest lake, Baikal, take a troika carriage in Suzdal, lunch out in a traditional Mongolian 'yurt' tent and gape at the golden domes of Yaketerinburg.

The Orient Express is a byword for luxury travel. Traditionally it served Paris and Istanbul, but that's no longer the case. These days it runs between Strasbourg and Vienna, so you'll have to improvise. Four journeys- Paris-Strasbourg, Strasbourg-Vienna, Vienna-Belgrade and Belgrade-Istanbul- will suffice, taking you from the heartland of Western Europe to the gateway of Asia. Truly a journey worth undertaking, 127 years since its maiden passage.

This railway has been in operation since 1893, giving spectacular views of one of Switzerland's most beautiful regions. It climbs from Interlaken to a height of 11332 feet at Jangfraujoch Station. A phenomenal feat of engineering allows the train to enter through the middle of Eiger mountain. From the top you can see as far as the Black Forest in Germany- this is the so-called 'Roof of Europe' after all. Inside the glacier is Ice Palace, an exhibition of ice sculptures. The cost of a return fare is steep - fares are over hundred quid - but well worth it. Visit for more.

The Blue Train offers a luxury service crossing South Africa. It takes in Victoria Falls, the haunting barren landscape of the Great Karoo and the incredibly seaside city of Cape Town. And along the way you'll be glued to the window hoping to spot elephants, lions and other wonderful animals in their wild habitat. Visit for more.

If you want a taste of real speed try a ride on Japan's Shinkansens. The latest model of these bullet trains reaches speeds of 186mph. This means you reach Osaka from Tokyo (515 km away) in a mind-boggling two hours and 25 minutes. You can take a Shinkansen all the way across Japan, from Kagoshima in the south-west to Hachinoche in the north-east. Just be sure not to blink. Visit seat61/japan for more.

Beginning in Tangier (the sleazy port which inspired the likes of Paul Bowles, William H. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac) the train stops at the delightful medieval town of Asilah . Then it heads inland from the modern metropolis of Casablanca, home to the stupendous Hassan II Mosque. The closer to Marrakech one gets, the land becomes pinker and barer, until the foothills of the Atlas Mountains- where the magnificent city itself appears in all its glorious weirdness. Visit for more.

This engineering triumph – which cost $90 million and took 90 years to complete – crosses the guava-spotted deserts and canyons of northern Mexico, linking the Pacific Coast and Chihuahua City by way of 87 tunnels and 36 bridges. The Copper Canyon itself features two climactic zones, so sub-tropical forests give way to a cool alpine climate with oaks and pines. for Visit for more info.

Don't listen to what anyone else says; from Switzerland to Siberia, by bullet train or steam engine, it's still the best way to travel. 


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