UK rail operators Virgin and Stagecoach have formed a joint venture with French state-owned rail operator SNCF to bid to run trains on the High Speed 2 line from London to the North.

The companies said they will enter the competition for the new West Coast Partnership franchise, which will include services on the existing West Coast route from 2019 and initial HS2 trains between London and Birmingham from 2026.

The route will run to Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester and Glasgow when completed.

Half of the partnership would be owned by Stagecoach, with SNCF taking a 30% stake and Virgin 20% holding.

FirstGroup and Italian operator Trenitalia announced in January that they will also jointly bid for the franchise.

Virgin Trains in a joint venture with Stagecoach has run long-distance services between London and Scotland on the West Coast line since 1997. Virgin owns 51% of this business, with Stagecoach taking the remaining 49% stake.

The Virgin Trains and Stagecoach joint venture was the first operator to introduce high-speed tilting trains in the UK.

Europe's largest high-speed rail fleet

SNCF runs the largest fleet of high-speed trains in Europe, consisting of over 430 trains.

Stagecoach chief executive Martin Griffiths, said: "This creates a powerful world-class partnership, bringing together the team which has transformed inter-city rail travel in the UK with the most recognised and capable high speed operator in Europe."

SNCF chairman and chief executive Guillaume Pepy added: "We appreciate Stagecoach's widespread expertise across a variety of transport modes and Virgin's reputation for its renowned customer experience."