FIRSTGROUP AND Trenitalia are to bid together for the forthcoming East Midlands and West Coast Partnership franchises, the companies have announced.

Trenitalia, the primary train operator in Italy, was awarded a pre-qualification questionnaire passport by the Department for Transport in December 2015, making it eligible to bid for franchises. It will now join as a minority partner with FirstGroup to bid for the two competitions, both due to be awarded during 2018.

The companies have formed two separate joint venture agreements, with First holding 70% of the equity in each and Trenitalia the remaining 30%. An expression of interest has been submitted for the East Midlands franchise, for which the invitation to tender is due to be released in May, with the franchise awarded in March 2018 ahead of a start in July of that year.

The West Coast Partnership competition will see the winning bidder operate classic services on the West Coast main line and also help design and then launch services on HS2, which are due to begin in 2026, and the franchisee will operate these for the first three to five years. An invitation to tender is due to be released in November, with the franchise awarded a year later and starting in April 2019.


Meanwhile, Trenitalia has completed the acquisition of c2c from National Express for a total consideration of around £72.6 million.

The deal, which has been approved by the Department for Transport, will see the company operate the franchise until it expires in November 2029. Parent company FS Italiane has also paid NX an additional £35 million to settle an intercompany loan granted to the franchisee.

Trenitalia says it intends to build on c2c’s existing strengths while benefiting from innovative technology such as advanced ticketing. Managing director Julian Drury will continue to lead the company, with the current organisational structure retained.

The completion of the deal simultaneously marks Trenitalia’s arrival into the UK heavy rail market and National Express’s departure, as c2c was the company’s last remaining franchise. NX had operated c2c since 2000, when it acquired it from Prism Rail.