The UK Government has announced a new rail franchise called the West Coast Partnership, which will combine the existing InterCity West Coast operations with development and introduction of High-Speed 2 (HS2) services.

The partnership will be responsible for services on the West Coast Main Line from 2019, as well as designing and running the initial high-speed services beginning 2026.

Set to run for the initial three to five years of operation of Britain’s new railway HS2, the franchise is the first step in attracting a bidding group to develop the service for West Coast passengers.

Through this franchise, the government also plans to lead the way for the introduction of HS2 services. 

"I have always been clear HS2 will not be a standalone railway, but fully integrated with the wider network."

UK Transport Minister Andrew Jones said: “The new franchise will attract highly experienced companies, who have the right experience, which ultimately means a better deal for passengers, both now and in the future.”

With the introduction of HS2 services, crowding on the existing network is expected to reduce.

Due to open in 2026, Phase I will see trains travelling at high-speed between London and Birmingham before heading further north on the existing West Coast Main Line.

HS2 chairman Sir David Higgins said: “I have always been clear HS2 will not be a standalone railway, but fully integrated with the wider network.

“It will provide a new backbone for our railways, modernising services to better serve towns and cities up and down the country.”

The new West Coast Partnership franchise will work with the HS2 construction project collaboratively.

Under the partnership approach, the winning bidder requires to collaborate with HS2 to design, launch and operate the initial HS2 services.

Completion of the first phase of HS2 is expected to nearly triple the number of seats at rush-hour from the existing 11,000 to around 30,000.

Formal expression of interest (EoI) for the West Coast Partnership is expected to be published in December this year, and the invitation to tender (ITT) will follow in October or November next year.