A PARTNERSHIP of Serco Group and NedRailways BV has been selected as preferred bidder to operate the UK's Northern rail franchise, the Strategic Rail Authority announced on July 1.

Northern will take over from First North Western and Arriva Trains Northern in October, employing 4000 staff and 265 trainsets to run a 2695 km network with 475 stations. The maximum franchise term will be eight years and nine months, with the final two years dependent on achieving performance targets. Serco and NedRailways already operate the Merseyrail network.

On July 8 Virgin, Stagecoach and German Railway announced that they had been 'unable to conclude a satisfactory framework' for their planned joint bid for the InterCity East Coast franchise, and were therefore withdrawing from the tender process. This leaves three shortlisted bidders: incumbent GNER, FirstGroup, and Danish State Railways. On July 9 DSB revealed that it had selected freight operator EWS as its bidding partner, providing experience of the UK market and able to manage 'production aspects' of the ICEC business. EWS will take a 29·9% stake in the joint venture.