MTR, controlled by the Hong Kong government, confirmed it had submitted the pre-qualification documentation to Transport Scotland (TS) before the noon deadline last Friday.
The move is the firm's latest bid to increase its UK holdings since being jointly awarded control of the London Overground franchise with Germany's Arriva six years ago. MTR is also in the running for three southwest of England franchises to be awarded in the next couple of years, including Thameslink, also run by Aberdeen-based FirstGroup. Its other interests include the Melbourne, Stockholm and Hong Kong metros.
Other companies bidding for the ScotRail franchise include Abellio of the Netherlands, National Express and Arriva.
The ScotRail franchise covers most trains in Scotland, although the Scottish Government has indicated it will be tendered separately from the Caledonian Sleeper service to London this time. Shortlisted for the 15-year sleeper franchise, whose process is a few months ahead of ScotRail, are Serco, Arriva, FirstGroup and National Express. Both franchises will be awarded next year.
An MTR spokesman said: "Because in Hong Kong MTR run track and train, they have a more holistic understanding of how to run railways than some of the other companies might do."