The Government has published a shortlist of three bidders under plans to re-privatise the East Coast rail mainline
They are East Coast Trains (First Group); Keolis/Eurostar East Coast (Keolis UK and Eurostar International); and Inter City Railways (Stagecoach Transport Holdings and Virgin Holdings).
This has sparked a row over whether the 393-mile Edinburgh-London franchise should be publicly run. Unions and other groups have been campaigning to halt re-privatisation of the service, which has been in public hands since 2009.
Manuel Cortes, leader of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association rail union, said: "This is nothing short of economic vandalism by a chancellor who does not want voters to know the truth about the East Coast line - it is a public sector success story." 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."