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France's Keolis-Eurostar bidding for stake in Britain's railway


The French could be running more of Britain’s transport network after state transport group Keolis/Eurostar was named one of three shortlisted bidders for the reprivatisation of the East Coast franchise.

The London-Edinburgh route has been in public ownership since National Express handed it back to the Government just over four years ago. According to the Office of Rail Regulation, it has lowest level of taxpayer support.

But the Department for Transport is pushing ahead with plans to privatise the 393-mile railway by February next year. As well as the French group, the other shortlisted firms were London-listed FirstGroup and Inter City Railways — a joint venture between Stagecoach and Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin to run the route.

Rail Minister Stephen Hammond said: “Although the East Coast franchise has been stabilised under government ownership since 2009, the route now needs a long-term private sector operator to plan for the future.”

The French bid, from Eurostar and Keolis, comes as its state railway SNCF looks set to be the sole bidder for Britain’s sale of its stake in Eurostar. Keolis also runs the Southeastern, Southern and London Midland franchises, alongside London-listed Go Ahead Group, as well as the First Transpennine Express with FirstGroup.

Stagecoach and Virgin already work together on the Virgin Rail joint venture, which runs the West Coast, and FirstGroup’s long-distance franchises include First Great Western and First ScotRail as well as the First TransPennine Express.