Government launches bidding for West Coast franchise and first HS2 services

The transport secretary has announced the government is inviting bidders for the next West Coast rail franchise which will see the transition of express services onto the HS2 line.

The new franchise is expected to begin in September 2019 with the Department for Transport to announce their preferred bidder for the franchise in April 2019. The successful bidder will run services on the West Coast mainline from 2019 to 2031.

The winner of the bidding process will take on the existing West Coast franchise, currently being operated by Virgin Trains, as well as overseeing the introduction of HS2. If they perform strongly, they will also operate on behalf of HS2 services for a limited period after 2026.

Speaking to the House of Commons, Grayling said: “While the exact shape and end-state of the organisation does not need to be decided now, I am very clear of one thing, I want HS2 to become a strong, British organisation, potentially capable of not just building but also operating a successful railway here. It should also become a strong international champion for the UK, in the way, for example, that the organisation that runs Manchester Airport has.”

The secretary of state also acknowledged the importance of the west coast mainline and said that the complex mixture of traffic on this route was part of the reason for the development of HS2. He noted the franchise had been successful and said this new contract would build on this up to and including 2026.

Grayling added: “The winner of this new competition will help design the new HS2 services and develop a new customer offering to take advantage of 21st century technology to revolutionise the way we travel on high speed rail, and provide input to my department and to HS2 Limited.”

In response, shadow rail minister Rachael Maskell, argued Grayling’s announcement was merely a series of administrative arrangements, suggesting the secretary of state should be focused on other issues including those associated with the East Coast mainline. Maskell continued to say how the transport secretary had failed to set out a strategic direction and instead delegated this task to the private sector. She suggested that private owners were prioritised by lining the pockets of shareholders and safety could be compromised as a result. 

If you would like to contact Ryan Tute about this, or any other story, please email