French rail giant SNCF threatens to sue after being kicked off HS2 trains bid


French rail giant SNCF is threatening to sue the Department for Transport after it was ruled out of a contest to run High Speed 2 trains in a row over pensions.

The state-owned operator had teamed up with Stagecoach and Virgin to bid for the West Coast Partnership. Earlier this month, though, the consortium was disqualified from the competition over the level of pension liabilities it was prepared to take on.

Guillaume Pepy, chairman of SNCF, said it was considering legal action. SNCF is desperate to secure a place on Britain’s new £56bn railway from London to Manchester and Leeds.

“Our common offer has been disqualified, not because we did not provide the best offer from a customer standpoint, but because we do not accept to bear risk which is not manageable and not measurable,” he said. Pepy declined to say on what legal basis he might challenge the disqualification.

The DfT said: “It is entirely for Stagecoach and their bidding partners to explain why they decided to repeatedly ignore established rules by rejecting the commercial terms on offer.”

SNCF’s exit leaves two consortiums in the running for the route, which will merge existing West Coast services with the new HS2 trains. FirstGroup has teamed up with Italy’s Trenitalia and Hong Kong operator MTR is working with China’s Guangshen Railway Company and Spain’s Renfe.

However, SNCF’s stance on the HS2 franchise is in contrast with its bid for the South Eastern route. Its subsidiary, Keolis, is bidding with Go-Ahead to retain South Eastern, and appears to have accepted pensions risk.