TWO COMPANIES backed by France’s national railway have launched a joint bid to run the East Coast main line, which is due be re-privatised by the government before the next general election.
Eurostar and Keolis, which are both majority-owned by SNCF, announced yesterday that they intend to compete for the rail franchise – the first bidders to publicly put their names forward.
Virgin Trains has also expressed an interest, although a spokesperson yesterday said it is waiting to see more details of the tender process, which is expected to be issued by the government this month.
Keolis will be the lead partner in the bidding consortium with Eurostar taking a minority share.
If successful it will operate under “a new, distinct brand,” the companies said in a statement.
Keolis already runs four train franchises in the UK. These include Southeastern, Southern and London Midland through a joint venture with Go-Ahead, known as Govia, and the Transpennine Express in partnership with FirstGroup.
The East Coast line has been run by Directly Operated Railways, which was set up by the Department for Transport, since National Express handed back the franchise in 2009 after failing to meet payments.
The successful bidder for the franchise is expected to be awarded a contract in October 2014, with the franchise starting in February 2015.
But its re-privatisation has faced strong opposition from unions and the Labour party, who want Directly Operated Railways to be allowed to bid for the contract.