Bidding for £11.8 billion worth of contracts on the UK government’s High Speed Rail Two (HS2) has opened.
Announcing the bidding process for phase one of the project during a trip to China to woo investors for UK infrastructure projects, chancellor George Osborne said that at least seven new contracts would be opened up to companies, with a total combined value of £11.8 billion.
The government is also organising an "HS2 partnering day" to give Chinese companies an opportunity to partner with UK firms on bids.
HS2 will provide high-speed rail services from London to the Midlands, and the North and construction of phase one is due to start in 2017.
Following a pre-qualification questionnaire, successful applicants will be invited to bid for a maximum of four packages at tender stage, with a maximum award of up to two contracts per applicant.
The seven contracts are split over the north, south and central regions along the phase one route from London to Birmingham. There will also be the option for additional contracts covering the route north of Birmingham, subject to ministerial decisions later this year.
HS2 Ltd chief executive Simon Kirby said that the start of the bidding process was a milestone for the HS2 project.
“Over the next decade, the winners of these contracts will go on to build 230km of bridges, tunnels and earthworks and create thousands of jobs across the construction industry," he said.
“Together we will transform intercity rail travel in the UK, build specialist skills and expertise across the country, create at least 2,000 new apprenticeships and build a legacy to inspire the next generation of young engineers.”
Osborne said: “This government is committed to rebalancing our economy and building a northern powerhouse, and improving transport links and launching HS2 is key to supporting long-term economic growth across the North and Midlands."
The chancellor has also invited Chinese participation in the HS2 skills college, which is due to open in 2017.