UK rail operators Stagecoach and Virgin are set to partner with French company SNCF to jointly bid for the West Coast Partnership rail franchise.

The franchise will include existing West Coast and new HS2 services, and is currently scheduled to run from 2019.

Stagecoach Group chief executive Martin Griffiths said: “This creates a powerful world-class partnership, bringing together the team which has transformed inter-city rail travel in the UK with the most recognised and capable high speed operator in Europe.

“The new franchise has an important role to play in delivering the improvements and space on our railway that can support our communities and economy.”

Stagecoach will own 50% shareholding in the bid, with SNCF holding 30% stake and Virgin possessing the remaining 20%.

"The new franchise has an important role to play in delivering the improvements and space on our railway that can support our communities and economy."

SNCF chairman and CEO Guillaume Pepy said: “Today, we are delighted to announce this next step in our commitment to UK rail, working with partners who have demonstrated their own expertise in long distance rail services and are highly regarded in the industry.

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“We appreciate Stagecoach’s widespread expertise across a variety of transport modes and Virgin’s reputation for its renowned customer experience. In partnership, we will deliver a successful HS2 service for the UK.”

Virgin, Stagecoach, and SNCF have previously worked together on the first stage of the West Coast Partnership bid and have submitted a formal expression of interest. They now intend to prepare for the ‘invitation to tender’, which is expected to be issued by the end of the year.

Stagecoach and Virgin are also working to operate the East Coast and West Coast inter-city routes under the Virgin Trains brand.