The battle to win the contract to run one of Birmingham's busiest train services is now down to just two after Hong Kong rail company MTR Corporation pulled out of the race.
The surprise decision leaves just incumbent operator London Midland and Dutch group Abellio fighting it out to win the West Midlands franchise award next year.
This network includes the service running from Worcestershire, through south and central Birmingham and on to Staffordshire - one of the most-used and crowded commuter routes in the West Midlands.
It also incorporates routes out of London and the South East up to Stoke-on-Trent, Crewe and Liverpool and carries more than 1,300 trains every week day.
MTR Corporation, which has made no public statement regarding its withdrawal, operates Hong Kong's Mass Transit Railway and last month announced it was working with FirstGroup to bid for the South Western franchise.
London Midland, which is owned by joint venture firm Govia, has run the service since 2007.
It is joined on the shortlisted by Abellio, which is working with East Japan Railway Company and Mitsui & Co as minority partners.
The original, three-strong shortlist was revealed by the Department for Transport in April.
The new West Midlands franchisee will be announced next summer and begin operations in October 2017.