The partners behind the inter-city West Coast Main Line have begun legal action against the Department for Transport after being barred from applying for the new franchise.
Stagecoach Group plc has confirmed that along with partners SNCF and Virgin it has commenced legal action against the DfT in connection with the procurement of the West Coast Partnership franchise.
A claim has been issued at the High Court in London under Part 7 of the Civil Procedure Rules together with a judicial review claim.
The claim alleges that the DfT Transport breached its statutory duties under the relevant provisions of Regulation 1370/2007 and the relevant principles of EU and English law, in connection with the procurement of the ongoing competition for the franchise.
The claim has been brought by West Coast Trains Partnership Limited, in which Stagecoach has a 50 per cent share, with SNCF holding 30 per cent and Virgin 20 per cent.
The West Coast Main Line connects Lancashire with London and Scotland.
On 8 May 2019, Stagecoach East Midlands Trains Limited issued a Part 7 claim against the DfT in connection with the procurement of the new East Midlands rail franchise, which was awarded to Abellio.
The legal action follows a decision by the DfT in April 2019 to disqualify Stagecoach and its partners from the East Midlands, West Coast Partnership and South Eastern franchise competitions.
The claims vary in certain respects but common to both is the group's refusal to accept the pension risks that the DfT requires operators to bear in relation to the new franchises.
Martin Griffiths, Stagecoach Group Chief Executive, said: "We believe the rail system should be about appointing the best operator for customers, not about passing unquantifiable, unmanageable and inappropriate risk to train companies.
"It is disappointing that we have had to resort to court action to find out the truth around the DfT's decision-making process in each of these competitions. However, we hope court scrutiny will shine a light on the franchising process and help restore both public and investor confidence in the country's rail system."
Guillaume Pepy, SNCF Executive Board Chairman, said: "We are disappointed at how the DfT has handled the procurement process for the West Coast Partnership franchise.
"We strongly believe rail franchises should be let on a sustainable basis to those operators who offer the best services, the best trains, and the best customer experience in a cost-efficient manner."
Patrick McCall, Senior Partner, Virgin Group, said: "It is extremely frustrating that the reason our bid was disqualified has nothing to do with looking after passengers or running a good train service.
"Virgin Trains consistently tops independent customer satisfaction tables for long-distance franchises thanks to our continued focus on innovation and customer experience, and our fantastic people."
The DfT says it will "robustly defend" the outcomes of its competition processes.