The French come over here, they make our high-speed trains run on time...
The French state railway company, SNCF, is plotting an audacious attempt to win control of Britain's first high-speed railway line linking London and the Midlands.
A company controlled by SNCF is currently finalising details of its bid to run the 14-year InterCity West Coast franchise held by Virgin Trains due in at the end of this month.
They hope to use the franchise as a launch pad to capture the licence to run the lucrative High Speed 2 (HS2) rail link, which will link London and the Midlands and is due to open in 2026.
The Government is due to make a decision on who will get to run the West Coast main line later this summer.
Industry analysts suggest that a successful bid by Keolis SNCF would offer the company a far greater chance of winning the HS2 contract when it is put out to tender.
"That is the prize they're looking at and the West Coast franchise is the first step to winning it," one source with knowledge of the company said.
SNCF has a vast experience of running high-speed networks in France for more than 30 years and has now branched out internationally. Keolis has part stakes in four UK rail franchises but this is the first time the company has co-opted the muscle of the French state railway in the bidding process.
But it still faces stiff competition from Virgin Trains, current owners of the West Coast franchise, which is also believed to be interested in running HS2.
There are currently four shortlisted bidders for the West Coast franchise, who have until the end of the month to submit their bid documents to the Government. They are Virgin, Keolis SNCF, Abellio (a subsidiary of Dutch Railways) and FirstGroup.
Critical to the Government's decision will be the amount of money each bidder is prepared to pay in return for the highly profitable franchise.
As a result, both Virgin and FirstGroup fear that the presence of what are effectively state-controlled companies could make it harder to compete on a level playing field.
"If you are backed by a state-owned operator then obviously your borrowing costs will be lower so you can be more competitive," one source close to the bidding process said.
The final decision on who gets the West Coast franchise will be taken at the end of August by the Transport Secretary, Justine Greening.
Rail travel: UK vs France
Top operational speed
France: 199mph. UK: 186mph.
Britain has Europe's most expensive rail system; France has the cheapest. UK passengers would save £4.6bn a year if fares were the same as in France, where season tickets typically cost 13p per mile, compared to 23p.
Rail cuisine is little better across the Channel, where the unappetising "sandwich TGV" is the equivalent of the hated "British Rail sandwich".
France is judged to have more comfortable trains than the UK, with a better ratio of seats to passengers.
The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations
Much-loved cartoon character returns - without Sir David Jason
Liam Neeson's Downton dreams
Matt Smith is set to join cast of the Jane Austen classic - with a twist
Actress to appear in second series of the hugely popular crime drama
Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas
Dramatic GoPro video shows backpacker Alexander Hennessy warding off armed robber in Buenos Aires, Argentina
The Best Place To Be Today shows 365 of the world's most amazing places - and the perfect time to visit them
Watch a man race the Circle line - and win
The 10 Best hiking boots
Pakistani passenger power forces two politicians off plane
- 2 Scottish independence: Learn from Quebec's mistakes and beware of promises. Vote Yes.
- 3 'Necrophilia-obsessed' girl among double murder accused in three-way sex case
- 4 A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims
Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained by Los Angeles police after being mistaken for a prostitute
Scottish independence referendum: A nation divided against itself
The political class is doing what Hitler couldn’t – destroying Britain
Scottish independence: Nationalist leader Jim Sillars threatens pro-union companies with 'day of reckoning' after independence
Portuguese academic says British are 'filthy, violent and drunk'
Scottish independence: David Cameron is becoming the 'George Bush of Britain'
£18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...
Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...
£20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...
£15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...