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Three bids shortlisted to run HS2 high-speed railway

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

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.

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The franchise winner will be expected to work with HS2 Ltd to launch the first services (Grimshaw Architects/PA)

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”.

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Chris Grayling said he looks forward to seeing the bidders' "innovative ideas" (David Mirzoeff/PA)

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.

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