A new rail franchise has been created which will combine both the InterCity West Coast franchise and HS2, the UK government has announced.
The West Coast Partnership franchise will start in 2019 and will incorporate HS2 services when the line opens in 2026. The new franchisee will work with HS2 Ltd to plan the new WCML timetable, taking into account the capacity freed up by HS2.
A formal Expression of Interest (EOI) will be published in December. An Invitation to Tender is expected to be issued in November 2017 and the franchise is due to start in April 1, 2019.
As the current InterCity West Coast franchise is due to end in 2018, a 12-month extension will be required with the current operator, Virgin Trains, to bridge the gap.
Transport minister Andrew Jones said: “We are embarking on a new chapter in our modernisation of the railways and we need world- class expertise to deliver it.
“HS2 will be the backbone of Britain’s railways, creating more seats for passengers on the West Coast and increasing capacity on the rest of the network.
“By combining the franchise we are ensuring we get the right people on board at an early stage to design and manage the running of both services in the transition stage.
“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.”
Chairman of HS2 Ltd Sir David Higgins said: “This is a real opportunity to ensure HS2 services complement and enhance existing ones.
“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.
“Bringing on board a new partner to work with HS2 Ltd now will help ensure we are working towards the same goal.”