PASSENGERS have been promised "a world-class rail network" as the Government announced the shortlists of companies to run future rail services in the North.

Three operators have been shortlisted for the York-based Northern rail franchise, which runs trains from York to places such as Harrogate, Selby, Hull, Leeds and Blackpool. The contenders are Abellio, which currently runs Northern with Circo in a joint venture, and Arriva and Govia.

Three operators have also been shortlisted for TransPennine Express, which runs trains from York to destinations including Scarborough, Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool. The contenders are FirstGroup, Keolis and Stagecoach. FirstGroup and Keolis currently operate TPE in a joint venture.

The winners are due to be announced in October next year.

The RMT transport union said the new franchises were to be let "on the clear basis of axing guards and other safety-critical staff, closing routes and stations, hiking fares, closing ticket offices and cancelling first and last trains."

But 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."

She added: "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 local rail users will have more influence in how services are run.

The Government said bidders would 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.

It added that responses from a public consultation, which closed on Monday, would be taken into account when the franchise proposals were developed further.

Meanwhile, it emerged yesterday that rail passengers could pay up to 3.5 per cent more for their tickets next January, following the announcement of the July inflation figures.

Train companies are entitled to raise their fares by one per cent above the Retail Price Index rate, which in July was 2.5 per cent.

East Coast said it was too soon to say how much its fares would rise. If a full 3.5 per cent hike was imposed, it would mean a super off-peak return from York to London increasing from £100.80 to more than £104.

Labour, the Campaign for Better Transport and Passenger Focus criticised the news.

Rail Minister Claire Perry acknowledged passengers had had to contend with "inflation-busting fare rises" over the past decade but insisted the Government was committed to "fair fares".