Probe into rail takeover

THE competition watchdog today announced an investigation into the takeover by transport group National Express of rail services from London to East Anglia.

THE competition watchdog today announced an investigation into the takeover by transport group National Express of rail services from London to East Anglia.

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) said it had decided to refer the group's acquisition of the Greater Anglia rail franchise to the Competition Commission.

The OFT said the merger could threaten competition because National Express is now the only long-distance public transport provider on some routes in Greater Anglia.

National Express took over the new enlarged Greater Anglia franchise on April 1.


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The contract covers services previously run by GB Railways subsidiary Anglia Railways, the West Anglia part of West Anglia Great Northern and First Great Eastern.

Routes include regional services in Norfolk and Suffolk, as well as commuter services from London to Bishop's Stortford and Colchester and intercity routes to Norwich and Ipswich.

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The award of the contract to National Express means it now controls all commuter train companies north of the Thames apart from London-Bedford operator Thameslink, Chiltern Railways and London-Oxford operator First Great Western Link.

The company also runs long distance coaches between London and Anglia.

OFT chairman John Vickers said it believed the merger would or could result in a "substantial lessening of competition" on some rail routes and a number of major coach routes in the region.

"It is now for the Competition Commission to examine the implications for competition,' Mr Vickers said.

National Express, which has renamed the Greater Anglia franchise as One, said in a statement that it was "very disappointed' at the OFT's decision.

Chief executive Phil White said: "We will be reviewing the detail of this decision and its implications whilst considering our position.'

An OFT spokeswoman said the Competition Commission would be looking at 52 routes where National Express coach operations and rail services overlap, as well as the wider transport market in the Anglia region.

"We're concerned about any routes where National Express have a coach and train service running,' she said.

The Strategic Rail Authority (SRA), which awarded National Express Group (NEG) the Greater Anglia franchise in January, said it shared the company's disappointment about the decision and believed NEG would be able to work with the OFT to resolve any problems.

SRA communications director Ceri Evans described the timing of the announcement by the OFT as "strange'.

The OFT had had at least two and a half months before National Express started operating the franchise to raise any competition concerns, Mr Evans said.

"We're a bit puzzled by this,' he said.

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