KEVIN Speed has rebranded its project to introduce low-cost high-speed services in France as Ilisto and has moved a step closer toward launching after the four French regions it has chosen to run services in have decided not to refer the company to the rail regulator, ART.

According to Kevin Speed, the Grand Est, Hauts-de-France, Bourgogne-Franche-Comté and Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes regions consider that its new services, aimed at the long-distance commuter market, will complement rather than compete with the TER services that the regions fund.

Kevin Speed says the four regions have also noted its commitment to call at all intermediate stations on the high-speed lines where Ilisto services are planned to operate, some of which are currently not frequently served by incumbent French National Railways (SNCF).

Following the first trial operations in 2026, Kevin Speed is planning to introduce Ilisto services on three routes at the end of 2028:

  • Paris Nord - TGV Haute-Picardie - Lille Flandres
  • Paris Est - Champagne-Ardenne TGV - Meuse TGV - Lorraine TGV - Strasbourg, and
  • Paris Lyon - Le Creusot-Montceau-Montchanin TGV - Mâcon-Loché TGV - Lyon Part-Dieu.

Bourgogne-Franche-Comté funds TER regional services on the conventional main line from Paris to Lyon via Dijon, while the major rail centre of Lyon is itself within the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region. Grand Est supports TER services on the Paris - Strasbourg main line, and Hauts-de-France services to Paris from Amiens and Saint-Quentin, as well as Lille - Amiens.

This support from the regions demonstrates the robustness of the Ilisto project, says Kevin Speed. It adds that the political consensus in support of the project now provides a solid basis for funding its new train fleet and launching the new services.

In February, Kevin Speed signed a 10-year framework track access agreement with infrastructure manager SNCF Network, which it says is the first of its kind in the French high-speed market.

By providing long-term visibility on network access, framework agreements open the door to private capital meeting the significant long-term investment requirements of the high-speed rail sector, according to Kevin Speed.

With the signing of the framework, Kevin Speed says it has committed to purchasing 20 high-speed trains “designed in partnership” with manufacturer Alstom. It will also build three rolling stock maintenance depots halfway along the routes it will serve, creating 450 local jobs.

The signing of the framework also marked the launch of a fresh round of financing where Kevin Speed is aiming to raise €1.2bn in debt and equity. This will be conducted by Nomura and Santander CIB, as well as Ernst & Young, which has worked on the Kevin Speed business plan from the start.

“The French high-speed rail market is the largest in Europe, both in terms of passenger numbers and revenue,” says Mr Guy Saidenberg, partner and chief financial officer at Kevin Speed.

“Its natural macroeconomic growth is accelerating under the modal shift from car to rail engineered by French authorities pursuant to their 2030 carbon emissions targets. With our fleet of 20 trains, we will satisfy this new demand for an affordable, 300km/h commuter service around Paris.”

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