Three companies have invited to submit detailed bids to run the East Coast franchise, which operates trains on the East Coast Mainline between London and Edinburgh.
- Inter City Railways Limited (Stagecoach Transport Holdings Limited and Virgin Holdings Limited)
- Keolis/Eurostar East Coast Limited (Keolis (UK) Limited and Eurostar International Limited)
- East Coast Trains Ltd (First Group plc).
The franchise has been in government hands since November 2009, when National Express gave it up, saying it could not afford to run it any more. Government plans to re-privatise the service have been subject to protests from those who feel it would be better left in public ownership.
The successful bidder is expected to be announced in November. The new franchise will start in March 2015 and run for eight years with the possibility of a one-year extension.
Campaigners against the re-privatisation of the rail company East Coast will be demonstrating along the route this morning.
Action for Rail is joining trade unions in saying the company is better off in public ownership, but the government says directly running East Coast was only a short-term plan.
The protest will be held at stations between Edinburgh and Kings Cross, including Newcastle Central and Durham. It has been timed to coincide with the Liberal Democrat Spring Conference, in York.
East Coast trains has lifted all ticket restrictions for this evening as another storm closes in.
The train operator is advising passengers to travel as early as possible as forecasters predict wind speeds of up to 70 miles per hour across the North East.
We have been closely monitoring weather conditions and taking advice from the Met Office throughout the day.
Our advice to all customers is to complete journeys as early as possible this evening, to check before setting out, and to allow extra time to make your journey.
Train services across the UK are being disrupted due to the on-going storms and flooding, with train companies issuing advice via Twitter:
Buses replace trains between Aberystwyth and Machynlleth because of overhead wire problems between Aberystwyth and Dovey Junction #UKStorm
Good Morning, the line between Liverpool-Crewe is blocked until 10am, passengers travelling to London need to travel via Warrington...
It was 'Thunderbirds to the rescue' overnight as hundreds of passengers were stranded on an Edinburgh-bound train battered by winds.Read the full story ›
Passengers on an East Coast train near Durham say have been stuck on board without heating or lighting for more than five hours after the train's pantograph was blown off by high winds:
They're rationing biscuits and water - but free wifi. Good to know that #eastcoast have their priorities in order!
Thousands of rail passengers were left stranded on trains after wind and rain wrought havoc with services.
Stuck! Stuck on a wobbling train in the middle of a storm! Freezing! starving! wet foot! Send help!
Been stuck on an @virgintrains service to London N of Lichfield. All train staff have been brilliant even when the train had no power!!!
On a train near Doncaster heading for London , tree has come down right in front of it , nobody hurt , stuck for a bit, got some chocolate
The evening rush-hour suffered disruption almost throughout the country, with a section of the West Coast main line in Lancashire closing between 7pm and 9pm.
East Coast is reporting problems on its journeys between the North East and London.
For the full details and the latest information click here.
Passengers hoping to board a Virgin Train today have been told to "abandon" their travel plans. In a series of tweets Virgin said customers already travelling would be left at the nearest station.
UPDATE: We are advising all customers not to attempt to travel. Customers already on services will be taken to the nearest station.
Transport Minister Stephen Hammond and shadow secretary Mary Creagh speak as the process of privatising the East Coast Mainline begins today.
Unions have objected strongly to the proposals and more than 23,000 people signed a petition against the plans.