North of England rail franchise bidders announced
The shortlist of companies bidding to run rail networks in the north of England has been announced.
Three operators have been shortlisted for the Northern Rail franchise and three for First TransPennine Express (TPE), with the winners due to be announced in October 2015.
The Campaign for Better Transport and the RMT transport union are concerned rail services could be cut.
But, rail minister Claire Perry promised a "world-class rail network".
The franchises connect passengers travelling between the key strategic cities of Leeds, Liverpool, Sheffield, Manchester, Newcastle and Carlisle and onwards to Edinburgh and Glasgow.
The companies competing for the Northern franchise are Arriva, Govia and Abellio, which has held the contract in a joint venture with Serco since 2004.
The three shortlisted for TPE are FirstGroup, Keolis and Stagecoach. FirstGroup and Keolis currently operate TPE in a joint venture.
The government said franchise bidders would need to improve customer service and passenger satisfaction on the two networks which carry more than 110 million passengers last year.
Ms Perry said: "Building a railway that is fit for the 21st century is a vital part of our long-term economic plan, connecting businesses and communities, generating jobs and boosting growth."
Over the next five years, more than £1bn will be spent on the rail network in the north, the government has said. This includes £600m for the Northern Hub project and electrification projects in the north-west and across the Trans-Pennine routes.
The RMT held a protest outside Westminster on Monday opposing plans for the Northern and TPE franchises.
Mick Cash, RMT acting general secretary, said: "This was just round one of the fight to stop the carve up of jobs and services on Northern and TransPennine Express."