The French high-speed rail market could have a new operator by the end of the decade with the launch of Proxima, an Antin Infrastructure Partners-backed project hoping to operate services between Paris and the west of France. 

The new company is led by co-founders Rachel Picard, a former manager at the SNCF Group’s Gares & Connexion and Voyages SNCF; and Tim Jackson, founder of rolling stock leasing company Alpha Trains and former CEO of RATP Dev UK and Ireland. 

Hoping to make quick work on its plans, Proxima has already begun negotiations with Alstom for the purchase of 12 Avelia Horizon trainsets, one of the fastest trains in the world with top speeds of up to 350km/h, signing a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the manufacturer on the order. 

Picard said: “We want to help the French public take the train more, by offering them an alternative solution, which is easy, quick, and integrated into their new lifestyles. 

“Thanks to Antin, we will have all the necessary resources to carry out this exciting project for the benefit of travellers.” 

Targeting 2027 for the first dynamic tests of its trains, Proxima then hopes to begin initial services between the French capital and the cities of Bordeaux, Nantes, Rennes, and Angers. 

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The project is fully financed by Antin, with the first phase of investment – including purchase and maintenance of rolling stock, launch costs, and working capital – expected to total around €1bn ($1.1bn). 

In addition to its agreement with Alstom, Proxima has also firmed a deal with Lisea, the line manager for the South Europe Atlantic high-speed line, for the use of its maintenance and stabling depot in Marcheprime, 20km south of Bordeaux. 

Alain Rauscher, chairman and CEO of Antin Infrastructure Partners, said: “The great knowledge of the French market brought by Rachel Picard and Tim Jackson, the partnerships concluded with Alstom and Lisea and Antin’s expertise in financing infrastructure projects are the winning combination that will make Proxima a success.” 

Proxima is just the latest company to enter the high-speed rail industry in France, following other operators such as start-up Kevin Speed, which recently signed an access agreement with SNCF Réseau.