The Department for Transport (DfT) announced shortlists for three new rail franchises on Tuesday, part of a rejigging of the train network that could see fewer companies involved in operating services.

Last October, the DfT said four existing franchises covering train routes to, through and from the English Midlands were to be replaced by three franchises to increase the efficiency and performance of the railways, improving services for passengers.

The DfT said in a statement on Tuesday that shortlisted candidates had until February to submit bids for the franchises. which will begin in November 2007 and end in 2015 or 2016.

The winners of the three franchises Cross Country, East Midlands, and West Midlands will be announced next summer.

In addition, Chiltern Railways (is) being invited to submit a separate proposal for the Snow Hill services in Birmingham, the DfT said.

Arriva, FirstGroup, National Express Group, and Stagecoach Group are on the East Midlands shortlist.

The franchise includes the main line route between Sheffield and London, as well as the Liverpool to Norwich route and local services in the East Midlands.

Candidates for the West Midlands franchise covering local services and the stopping service from Birmingham to London via Milton Keynes are; Govia (a joint venture between Go Ahead Group and France's Keolis), MTR Corp Ltd, and a joint venture between Serco Group and NedRailways.

The Cross Country franchise which covers inter city routes excluding London will be contested by Arriva, FirstGroup, National Express, and Virgin Rail Group which is 49 percent owned by Stagecoach.

Stagecoach said in a statement: The East Midlands franchise is an excellent opportunity to expand our rail portfolio by delivering improved services for passengers in a region of the UK with significant growth potential.

Go Ahead said its strong focus on commuter rail operations ... will enable us to make a very compelling bid.

FirstGroup, which already runs InterCity, commuter and regional rail services, said in a statement its track record in leveraging investment, integrating services and innovation will enable us to submit exciting and compelling bids.