CMA raises concerns over awarding of East Midlands Railway franchise to Abellio

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Abellio’s accepted bid to become the operator of the East Midlands Railway franchise has hit a road block.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has been investigating the award of the East Midlands Rail Franchise to Abellio and has raised concerns over the move.

CMA’s Phase 1 probe has found competition concerns on 2 of the routes Abellio would operate – Norwich to Ely and Thetford to Ely. This is because under current proposals for the franchise, Abellio would operate both East Midlands Trains and Greater Anglia, and so provide the only train services on this line.

The CMA is concerned that this could reduce competition, as passengers have no other rail options, which could lead to higher fares. The CMA has found no concerns on the other routes.

Joel Bamford, Senior Director of Mergers at the CMA, said: Thousands of people rely on this route, so it’s crucial that passengers don’t suffer as a result of reduced competition.

“If the franchise is awarded to Abellio as currently planned, we’re concerned passengers could face increased prices.

“We look forward to hearing from Abellio about how they will seek to overcome these concerns.”

Abellio has offered to work with the CMA to keep fares and advance ticket availability at current levels on the 2 routes. In previous similar cases, such as the award of the Northern franchise to Arriva and FirstGroup and MTR’s acquisition of South Western, the CMA’s concerns were resolved by the operator agreeing to price-caps on the affected lines.

The CMA’s decision comes in advance of the start of the franchise, due to begin on 18 August.