The Government has announced a shortlist of three bidders to run the East Coast Mainline, as part of plans to reprivatise the route.

The three bidders are First group, a joint bid by Eurostar and French company Keolis, and another from Virgin and Stagecoach.

The Government wants to privatise the route, which runs from London to Edinburgh, early next year. This is despite fierce opposition from political figures and union leaders, who claim it has returned almost £600 million to taxpayers, since it went into public ownership in 2009.

In October last year the Department for Transport officially started the process with the publication of a series of procurement documents for potential bidders.

“Giving passengers more will be at the heart of the new East Coast franchise,” said rail minister, Stephen Hammond. “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.”

In 2009 the Government was forced to take ownership of the route after previous operator National Express, ran into financial difficulties.

Leader of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, Manuel Cortes, claimed reprivatising the route was “economic vandalism”. He said the chancellor, George Osborne, doesn’t want the public to know about the East Coast line, “It’s a public success story”, he added.

The three companies have now passed ‘pre-qualification evolution’ stage and can start working on developing their plans for the franchise, before they receive the Government’s ‘invitation to tender’.

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