East Coast is currently run by Directly Operated Railways, a company owned by the government, after the franchise fiasco with National Express in 2009, but an invitation to tender is expected to be issued by the department for transport in October.
Eurostar and Keolis are both majority owned by SNCF – the French state-backed railway giant. Their bid will see Eurostar as the minority stakeholder. Keolis is no stranger to the British train network, it already runs four UK train franchises – Southern, Southeastern, London Midland and TransPennine Express.
‘I believe that our ability to draw upon an international track record of delivering complex long-distance services, coupled with Eurostar's reputation for customer excellence, is a unique proposition,’ said Keolis’ UK chief executive, Alistair Gordon.
The running of the franchise by the successful bidder would not commence until February 2015. Labour has argued against the privatisation of the line, saying it delivers value for taxpayers (East Coast has paid some £600m to the Treasury in the in the past two years). But the department for transport is determined, saying it wants to attract bids from as many international firms as possible.
The bid by the French-backed companies could be fought off by Sir Richard Branson though, he has indicated Virgin will make a play for the route too (probably in partnership with Stagecoach).
We won’t find out whether the East Coast Line staff will be sporting Virgin red or selling copious amounts of croissants until October 2014 – when the successful bidder is announced. We wait with baited breath.