Richard Branson's Virgin company will next year play an increased role in train service linking Scotland to London.

The British government said Thursday that Virgin Group and the Stagecoach company have been chosen to run the east coast rail franchise starting in March.

The two companies already operate the west coast route between London and Scotland.

The new east coast company will be called Inter City Railways. It will pay the government roughly 3.3 billion pounds ($5.2 billion) over eight years to operate the franchise.

They promise better service on the east coast line, which has been operated by the public sector for five years.

British officials said the new arrangement will give passengers more seats, more services, and better trains.

But union leaders called the privatization move a betrayal.