Bids close for three more rail lines

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Final bids were submitted yesterday afternoon for the next round of three rail lines to be franchised but a fourth has been delayed because of new information.

The announcement of the winning bidders for the three lines - Midland Main Line, Gatwick Express and InterCity East Coast - will be made early next month, bringing the total number of lines privatised to five.

The most keen competition appears to be for Gatwick Express, the shuttle service between the airport and Victoria station in London.

Richard Branson's Virgin Group, which has a stake in the consortium which earlier this week was awarded the pounds 3bn Channel Tunnel rail link, is bidding against a management buy-out team and two bus companies.

Another buy-out team, Wenfordbray, is bidding for East Coast, the London to Scotland route regarded as British Rail's flagship line because of a pounds 900m refurbishment completed in the early 1990s.

Four companies, including Genesis 125, another management buy-out team, are thought to be competing for Midland Main Line which runs services from London's St Pancras station to Leeds. Bus operator MTL Holdings is a certain bidder.

The deadline for final bids for a fourth line - Network SouthCentral - which was originally scheduled for yesterday has now been postponed until 11 March because, according to Mr Salmon, "more information has been given to bidders on the performance regime".