UK: MTR Corp announced on December 20 that Spanish national operator RENFE had joined its bid for the West Coast Partnership franchise. The Department for Transport invited three shortlisted bidders to tender for WCP in March this year. The contract will cover operation of inter-city services on the West Coast Main Line linking London with northwest England and Glasgow, as well as a ‘shadow operator’ role to prepare for the launch of services over the first phase of High Speed 2, scheduled for 2026.

The MTR West Coast Partnership bid vehicle also includes Guangshen Railway Co, which runs trains between Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Pinhshi in China. Key sub-contractors include consultancy Deloitte MCS Ltd, Panasonic Systems Europe, Swedish travel software company Snowfall and ticket retailer Trainline.

MTR said that RENFE would bring ‘specific experience of bringing new high speed lines into operation’, reflecting its role as an operating partner for the recently opened Haramain high speed line in Saudi Arabia and the planned Texas Central project in the USA.

‘We have sought to bring the best and most up-to-date high speed expertise into our bid. With Europe’s largest high speed network and significant expansion plans, RENFE has unrivalled knowledge of how to bring new high speed lines into service in Europe’, commented Jeremy Long, Chief Executive of MTR’s European Business.

‘We are delighted to have the opportunity to bid to bring our high speed knowledge to the UK to help deliver HS2’, said Manuel Villalante, Strategy General Manager at RENFE. ‘With our expanding network in Spain and partnerships elsewhere in the world including Texas, this shows RENFE’s ambitions to remain a leader in high speed rail.’

RENFE had reportedly held preliminary discussions about possible co-operation with other bidders for WCP, notably the incumbents Virgin and Stagecoach. Their West Coast Partnership Ltd vehicle is now made up of Stagecoach (50%), 30% Virgin Holdings (30%), and SNCF (20%). The third shortlisted bidder is First Trenitalia West Coast Rail (70% FirstGroup, 30% Trenitalia).

Inter-city services to and from London Euston have been operated by Virgin and Stagecoach under the Virgin Trains brand since 1997. The latest franchise was directly awarded by DfT to Virgin and Stagecoach in February; this runs until March 31 2019 with a possible extension of up to a year at DfT’s discretion.