Trains to the North-east could soon be run by a company from the North-east after Arriva confirmed it was interested in taking over the East Coast Main Line.
But operator GNER could yet be set for a shock return to running the railway - in partnership with another operator, if not on its own.
The York-based business, which is still running trains on the line through a management contract, said it had been talking to potential partners.
The Department for Transport's deadline for expressions of interest is today - although some firms have complained about the tight timescale for announcing their intentions.
Other confirmed bidders are Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Rail, working with its 49% shareholder Stagecoach, First Group from Aberdeen and London's National Express Group.
There is also the chance of NedRailways and Serco entering the fray - aiming to add to the NorthernRail local trains services that they already run in the North-east.
Newcastle's Go-Ahead Group, through its Govia partnership with
Keolis, Danish state rail company DSB, freight operator EWS, and the German company Deutsche Bahn, are all thought to have been put off by the tight timescale.
Arriva director of communications Simon Craven said the company was interested in bidding for the franchise, and its Europe-wide experience in running railways would stand it in good stead.
He said: "Whatever framework exists for tendering for this route, it will be something we have experienced somewhere. So we are quite happy to play by whatever rules they want."
A spokesman for GNER said: "At this stage, we are not informing whether we have submitted an expression of interest. But we would very much like to be involved in the re-franchising process."
Short-listed bidders are set to be announced next month.