Four government-backed European rail operators have expressed an interest in taking over the UK West Coast franchise operated by Virgin Trains.
The firms include Germany’s Deutsche Bahn, Spain’s Renfe, the Netherlands Abellio and Trenitalia.
The main-line route operates from London to the West Midlands, the North West, North Wales, Cumbria and Glasgow.
The contract to run London-to-Glasgow trains will expire in 2012, and the new franchise will run from 2012 to 2026 until the planned opening of the first phase of the proposed £17bn ($27.4bn) north-south high-speed rail line.
Trenitalia has already expressed an interest in placing bids by forming a joint venture with France’s transportation provider Veolia Transport.
Virgin Trains reported a pre-tax profit of £76.4m ($123m) in 2009 and the line carries 28 million passengers per year.