Both lines are part of the so-called Balance of Territory (TET) network of loss-making inter-city services, which are currently operated by SNCF Mobility.

Under the government’s rail reforms, which were approved by the National Assembly and the Senate last June, the state has become the organising authority for the TET network. A 2016 agreement between the state and French National Railways (SNCF) for the operation of these services expires next year.

The procurement will be launched with the publication of a prior information notice in the Official Journal of the European Union.

State and regional governments will be permitted to introduce competitive tendering for public service obligation (PSO) train services from December 2019 “at the pace desired by each organising authority.”

The decision to tender Nantes - Bordeaux and Nantes - Lyon services makes the national government the first organising authority to engage in the process of market opening. A formal invitation to tender will be issued in early 2020 with the new contract due to start in 2022.

Currently only three inter-city train pairs operate on each route daily, attracting fewer than a million passengers a year but requiring a public subsidy of more than €25m.

Both routes have recently benefitted from the introduction of new rolling stock in the form of Alstom B 85000 bi-mode multiple units. These six-car trains were financed by the French government and will be made available to the successful bidder.

SNCF has confirmed it intends to bid for the contract.

The government says it does not plan to introduce competitive tendering on other TET routes until the modernisation or renewal of rolling stock has been completed.