National Express wanted to renegotiate its contract
National Express will hand the running of the East Coast Main Line to the government at one minute to midnight on Friday 13 November.
The government said in July that it would take over the route, which runs trains between London and Edinburgh.
Ministers had refused National Express's requests for its contract with the government to be renegotiated.
National Express said it did not expect passengers, services or employees to be affected by the handover.
The company has been struggling with the franchise since it turned out that the amount it agreed to pay to run services on the line was too much.
National Express agreed in 2007 to pay £1.4bn over seven years to run the line.
The transport group stressed that its two other rail franchises would not be affected by the transfer of the East Coast franchise, although the government had threatened to take them back when National Express decided to hand back the East Coast franchise.
National Express East Anglia runs trains from the east of England to London Liverpool Street as well as operating the Stansted Express, while c2c operates in the south of Essex, with trains going into London Fenchurch Street.
The East Coast franchise will now be operated by a government-controlled group called Directly Operated Railways.
Staff currently employed on the line by National Express will transfer to the new company.
It is expected to stay in government hands until 2011 when there is likely to be a fresh auction.