The government has shortlisted two train firms as it narrows down the list of potential winners of the South Western franchise competition.
First South Western Trains and Stagecoach South West have made it to the final stage to secure the contract for one of the busiest routes in the country.
Bidders will now need to demonstrate how they will "deliver better journeys for passengers", the Department for Transport said this morning.
The current franchise is operated by South West Trains, and covers urban, suburban, regional, and long-distance routes between London Waterloo, Reading, Bristol, Exeter, Weymouth, and Portsmouth. It also includes the Island Line on the Isle of Wight.
The new operator will be due to take over the franchise in June 2017.
Rail minister Claire Perry said: "We are investing in additional capacity, and have ambitious plans for smart ticketing, customer service and improved connectivity across the South Western network, to give passengers real benefits across the region and beyond."