Virgin and Stagecoach have teamed up with the French state-owned rail operator SNCF in their bid to run the first trains on the £56bn HS2 line.
The government announced that the new West Coast Partnership will run from 2019, combining current West Coast services and the first few years of operation of the new HS2 services.
And the train operators said their bid will see Stagecoach with a 50 per cent share in the bid vehicle, West Coast Partnership, with a 30 per cent share taken by SNCF and 20 per cent by Virgin. They plan for the services to carry the Virgin brand, if successful.
Martin Griffiths, chief executive of Stagecoach Group, said:
This creates a powerful world-class partnership, bringing together the team which has transformed inter-city rail travel in the UK with the most recognised and capable high speed operator in Europe.
The group has already worked together on the first part of their bid, which was submitted yesterday and the partners will now prepare for the invitation to tender, expected to be issued by the end of the year.
SNCF runs the French network of TGV high-speed trains.
Guillaume Pepy, chairman and chief executive of SNCF said: "Today, we are delighted to announce this next step in our commitment to UK rail, working with partners who have demonstrated their own expertise in long distance rail services and are highly regarded in the industry. We appreciate Stagecoach's widespread expertise across a variety of transport modes and Virgin's reputation for its renowned customer experience. In partnership, we will deliver a successful HS2 service for the UK."
However, the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union criticised the move as "yet another land grab on Britain's railways".
General secretary Mick Cash said: "The integrated HS2/West Coast operation has been bought and paid for by the British people and should be run by the British state in the public interest and not by some consortium of speculators looking to make a killing at the taxpayer's expense."
HS2 has been under the spotlight in recent months over a controversial £170m development partner contract which resulted in the winning bidder withdrawing its interest after a whistleblower alerted losing bidder Mace to potential conflict of interest.
The original second placed bidder Bechtel has since been chosen, though Mace has been calling for the entire process to be rerun.