An announcement is expected imminently on two new rail franchises for Cumbria, to begin in April.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin is due to award the new Northern and TransPennine franchises within the next few weeks.
Northern’s services include the Cumbrian Coast line between Carlisle and Lancaster via Whitehaven and Barrow, and the Carlisle-Newcastle and Carlisle-Leeds routes.
TransPennine operates hourly trains from Glasgow and Edinburgh, through Carlisle and Penrith, to Manchester Airport. Currently, the Northern Rail franchise is run by a joint venture between Serco and the Dutch rail firm Abellio.
Abellio is on the shortlist for the new franchise – this time without Serco. The other shortlisted bidders are Arriva and Govia, the latter a joint venture between Go Ahead of the UK and France’s Keolis.
TransPennine is run by a partnership of FirstGroup and Keolis. The bids under consideration are from FirstGroup, Stagecoach and Govia.
The new Northern franchise holder will have to withdraw ageing Pacer trains, introduce new trains and refurbish existing ones, and invest £30m in stations.
It must also operate 200 additional services each day Mondays to Saturdays, and 300 extra on Sundays.
In Cumbria, improvements will see the reintroduction of Sunday trains between Whitehaven and Barrow by December 2017, and a doubling of the frequency on the Carlisle-Newcastle route to give half-hourly departures.
There will also be an extra late afternoon train from Leeds to Carlisle by December 2019, returning from Carlisle in the evening.
The winner of the TransPennine franchise must operate additional evening trains, allowing passengers from Cumbria to return home later from Glasgow, Edinburgh and Manchester.
Both franchises are required to provide free wifi on all services. Meanwhile, the National Audit Office is warning that spiralling costs of infrastructure projects on the railways risks harming the value for money of future franchises.
Its latest report says issuing contracts that protect operators from reduced revenue during major work reduces returns to the taxpayer.
It adds that the Department for Transport must judge how to maximise returns while keeping train services running during the construction of High Speed 2, due to open between London and Birmingham in 2026.
Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said: “Since the collapse of the West Coast Main Line franchise competition, the department has improved its management of rail franchising. “Results of early franchise competitions indicate that returns to taxpayers could be higher than in the past. “However, important risks remain.
There is considerable uncertainty and volatility around the rail infrastructure improvement programme.
“And there are risks to effective competition should market interest decline. The department recognises these challenges and is taking steps to address them.”