Train passengers in the North of England have been promised "a world-class rail network" as the Government announced the shortlist of companies that will run future services in the region.
Three operators have been shortlisted for the Northern rail franchise and three for the TransPennine Express (TPE) franchise, with the winners due to be announced on October 2015.
The Campaign for Better Transport and the RMT transport union have expressed concern that rail services in northern England could be cut.
But announcing the shortlists today, Rail Minister Claire Perry said the competing companies would be asked "to come up with innovative and ambitious proposals that will ensure a truly world-class rail network for the region".
The Government added that the franchise bidders would need to improve customer service and passenger satisfaction on the two networks which carry more than 110 million passengers last year.
The franchises connect passengers travelling into and between the key strategic cities of Leeds, Liverpool, Sheffield, Manchester and Newcastle, and onwards to Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Those competing for the Northern franchise are Abellio, which is currently running Northern, Arriva and Govia. The three shortlisted for TPE are FirstGroup, Keolis and Stagecoach. FirstGroup and Keolis currently operate TPE in a joint venture.
The Government said bidders will be expected to show how they will make the most of the Government's £1 billion investment programme for the rail network in the North of England, which will provide faster and more reliable journeys, more capacity, better trains and improved connections for passengers across the region.
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, and we need strong private sector partners to help us achieve this ambition."
The new operator will also be expected to work closely with Rail North, which represents the region's local authorities, to ensure that local rail users will have more influence in how their train services are run.
Sir Richard Leese, for Rail North, said: "The companies on the shortlists demonstrate the interest there is in meeting Rail North's desire to see the railway acting as an economic driver in the North of England."