A TRAVEL firm in the North-East is hoping to break into the French railway market, it was reported today.

Arriva wants to start four pilot projects to show how privatisation could potentially bring service improvements and cost savings to regional rail lines.

The operator, which began as a second-hand motorcycle shop in Sunderland in 1938, has six UK rail businesses, including Chiltern services between London and Birmingham.

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Chief executive David Martin is trying to break the grip of France’s national railway company, SNCF, with an offer to French regional authorities to trial privately run passenger services from 2016.

Arriva, bought by Germany’s Deutsche Bahn in 2010, said it had received “strong early interest” from French regional authorities in its plans.

Mr Martin said: “We have put forward a compelling proposal, designed to save money for the French taxpayer and provide a better service for the passenger, and have received strong early interest from a number of the regional authorities."

France is renowned for its high-speed TGV cross-country services, but the railway system as a whole suffers from lower passenger satisfaction scores than the UK for punctuality and reliability.