THE DEPARTMENT for Transport has called an extension of up to one year on the West Coast rail franchise.

Operated by Virgin Rail Group, a joint venture of Virgin and Stagecoach, the franchise was due to end in March 2019. It will be succeeded by the West Coast Partnership franchise, which will oversee both classic services on the current route and the transition to and operation of the first highspeed services on Phase One of HS2.

DfT has confirmed an extension of 13 operating periods to the end of March 2020. This may be shortened by DfT, but the extension will run for at least eight periods, meaning the West Coast Partnership franchise will not start before November; it was previously envisaged to begin in September. Virgin Rail Group has operated the West Coast franchise under direct award and extension arrangements since 2012, when the competition for a new deal was cancelled.

The winner of the West Coast Partnership franchise is now expected to be announced in May, although this too may be delayed dependent on when analysis of bids has been completed by DfT. Three bidders have been shortlisted for the new deal:

■ a joint venture of Virgin, Stagecoach and SNCF;

■ a joint venture between FirstGroup and Trenitalia;

■ a bid led by MTR in partnership with Guangshen Railway.

Meanwhile, MTR has confirmed Spanish high-speed operator Renfe has become a partner in its bid for the West Coast Partnership deal. Renfe joins the list of sub-contractors supporting MTR’s bid, alongside Deloitte, Panasonic, Snowfall, Trainline.com and WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff. MTR says Renfe will add its specific expertise of bringing new high-speed lines into operation to the partnership.