Rail minister Theresa Villiers welcomed the “strong interest” in the three franchises up for grabs – the Great Western line between Penzance and Paddington, the Essex Thameside route and London’s Thameslink services.
This is part of the biggest route re-franchising since the network was privatised in the 1980s, she added.
All the selected firms have experience in running UK trains. First Group, which currently runs Great Western trains but turned down an extension to its franchise last year in a “tactical” move to win longer contracts, is in the running to take on all three routes.
The company, which yesterday forecast an 8.3 per cent rise in rail passenger revenues in the coming year despite an overall warning about its margins, said it is “well-placed to build on our position in the UK rail market”.
Go-Ahead has been shortlisted for the Thameslink franchise, but said it will seek feedback from the DfT after failing to make the shortlist for Essex Thameside, which was formerly known as c2c.
Hong Kong’s MTR Corporation, which jointly runs the London Overground network, has been picked to submit bids for both Thameside and Thameslink.
Villiers said the new Great Western franchise operator will be involved in improving rail services following completion of the electrification and Intercity Express projects, while the new Thameslink operator will help oversee the completion of the Thameslink project.
The rail industry received £3.96bn in government funds last year, but none of the three routes being refranchised received any revenue support, according to figures from the Office of Rail Regulation.