Three bids shortlisted to run HS2 high-speed railway

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Three bids have been shortlisted to operate the HS2 high-speed railway, the Government has announced.

The companies are competing 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.

Rail firms based in the UK, China, Hong Kong, France and Italy are among those in the running to win the contract.

The shortlisted bids are:

:: A joint venture between UK-based FirstGroup and Italian operator Trenitalia

:: A partnership between Hong Kong firm MTR and Guangshen Railway Company - based in China - as well as several sub-contractors

:: A joint entry by UK-based Stagecoach and Virgin, as well as French rail operator SNCF

The Department for Transport claimed the bids feature "UK rail experts", companies that operate high-speed railways around the world and business with "an excellent track record in customer services".

The winner of the franchise will be expected to work with HS2 Ltd to launch the first services on the £55.7 billion high-speed railway.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said: "The West Coast Partnership will support growth and better services on the West Coast Main Line while helping to ensure that HS2 becomes the backbone of Britain's railways.

"This will create more seats for passengers, improve connections between our great cities, free up space on existing rail lines and generate jobs and economic growth throughout the country.

"I look forward to seeing the bidders' innovative ideas to put passengers at the heart of the railway."

Phase 1 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 Phase 1 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 Government's programme for the next two years.

Four bids were named as being in the running for the South Eastern rail franchise, which covers some of Britain's busiest commuter lines in London, East Sussex and Kent.

The shortlisted companies are:

:: A partnership between Dutch-owned Abellio with Japan-based East Japan Railway Company and Mitsui

:: Govia, which is 35% owned in France and Canada, and currently runs the South Eastern franchise and embattled Southern Railway

:: Stagecoach

:: Trenitalia

About 640,000 journeys are made on 1,900 trains on the network every weekday.

Mr Grayling said: "South Eastern is one of the busiest franchises in the UK, running almost 2,000 services every weekday.

"We want passengers to be at the heart of everything that the new operator does, enjoying modern, spacious trains on a more punctual and reliable service.

"We will listen to what passengers say in the current public consultation, and we will seek to make changes and improvements only with their support."

Rail union RMT expressed anger that the shortlists do not feature a public sector bid.

General secretary Mick Cash claimed the General Election showed that voters had rejected privatisation.

He said: "It is a scandal that the cheaper, more efficient public sector option has been excluded from the bidding process for these two major rail franchises.

"This morning the same old gang of chancers, rip-off merchants and overseas opportunists have been lined up for another invitation to? jam their snouts in the trough at the British passengers' expense.

"After over two decades of rail privatisation the Government are still locked into this cycle of exploitation and failure. It is a disgrace and RMT will continue to fight for the direct public control and ownership of our railways."

The Rail Delivery Group, representing train companies and Network Rail, says passengers and the Treasury benefit by rail companies from around the world bringing "new ideas and innovation", with the number of journeys being made doubling over the past 20 years.