East Coast Trains (First Group Plc) is a finalist along two other companies in a bid for the East Coast Main Line franchise.
Three bidders have been shortlisted by the government to run the East Coast Main Line between Edinburgh and London King’s Cross, and deliver proposals for improved services for passengers on the InterCity East Coast rail franchise.
The InterCity East Coast rail was announced by the government on January 17, and aims to get passengers to their destinations fast and efficiently, in more comfort.
The three companies that passed the Pre-Qualification Evaluation stage are East Coast Trains (First Group), Keolis/Eurostar East Coast and Inter City Railways.
The operators will now have to start work developing plans for the franchise and consider how they intend to use new, UK-built high-tech trains.
The government hopes the new franchise will see operators make use of the route, which will see large investment — such as £240 million in infrastructure projects over the next five years — to improve line capacity and reduce journey times.
Rail Minister Stephen Hammond said: “Giving passengers more will be at the heart of the new East Coast franchise.
“That means new services and journeys that are faster, more punctual and more comfortable. When these companies are developing their proposals they should be looking at ways to innovate and grow the service.
“We have embarked on one of the biggest programmes of rail investment ever, with over £35 billion being spent to enhance and run our rail network over the next five years.
“But for our railways to continue to grow we need strong private sector partners who can invest and innovate in ways that deliver a world-class service.”
RMT Union General Secretary Bob Crow said: “The truth is that out of pure ideology, this government is prepared to take a third gamble on their big-business friends in a desperate bid to privatise the East Coast Mainline before the election, even though they are well aware that the whole reckless exercise will cost the British public hundreds of millions of pounds in lost income.
“The publicly owned East Coast is Britain’s most successful rail operation carrying more passengers per mile, more efficiently and with the highest levels of passenger satisfaction and handing over £200 million a year back to the taxpayers while comparable private train companies rob us blind. That is what the government are out to destroy.”
The InterCity franchise competition started in October 2013, and the Department for Transport plans to issue the invitation to tender at the end of February, in time for the new services to start in February 2015.