The government has released its shortlist of firms bidding to design, develop and operate the first stage of HS2.
The three contenders, First Trenitalia West Coast Ltd, MTR West Coast Partnership Ltd and West Coast Partnership Ltd, are all consortia that include a non-British partner with experience running a high-speed rail network.
First Trenitalia is a partnership between First Rail and Trenitalia SpA, which runs high-speed train services in Europe.
MTR West Coast Partnership includes the Chinese firm Gunagshen Railway, which runs the country’s high-speed link between the cities of Guangzhou and Shenzen.
West Coast Partnership is a joint venture between Stagecoach Group, Virgin and SNCF, the French state-owned rail provider.
The winning bidder will be responsible for designing, developing and operating the first leg of the new route from London to Birmingham, which is due to open in 2026. It will also be involved in the design of the rolling stock. However, a separate procurement process is running to design, build and maintain the high speed fleet.
Whichever consortia wins will also be responsible for running the excisting West Coast Main Line from April 2019, and for optimising the two parallel services when HS2 opens.
The government has earmarked £56bn for the entire HS2 line, including the second stage from Leeds to Manchester. However, some estimates suggest the eventual cost could be as high as £88bn.
Chris Grayling, transport secretary, said the line would “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,” he added.
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