The government has started the competition for the next West Coast rail franchise which will include running the first HS2 – the first phase of this project is due to open between London and Birmingham in 2026.

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.

The Department for Transport says it is challenging franchise bidders to “innovate to improve the experience for rail passengers”.

Grayling added: “The West Coast mainline is one of the busiest mixed rail routes – if not the busiest in Europe. It carries commuter traffic to six of our biggest cities, it carries express trains between them, and it provides essential intermediate services to places like Milton Keynes, Coventry, Warrington and Preston.

“It is an essential link to North Wales, Scotland and Ireland and it is also one of our busiest freight routes.”

Grayling said the new franchise would “deliver immediate benefits to passengers and pave the way for the seamless introduction of HS2” under one operator responsible for all aspects of journeys.

He added: “I want HS2 to become a strong British organisation, potentially capable of not just building, but also operating a successful railway – a beacon for other countries to aspire to, both in terms of the engineering project to build it and the service it will offer to passengers, which we will introduce on the West Coast Partnership.”

Bids for the West Coast Partnership have to be submitted by July 13 with the operator scheduled to be selected in April or May 2019. The new franchise is due to start on September 15, 2019.

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