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Abellio monopoly could see rail users between Norwich and Ely hit in the pocket, watchdog fears

PUBLISHED: 18:42 22 July 2019 | UPDATED: 09:34 23 July 2019

Fears have been raised that rail fares could be on the rise, with Abellio set to have a monopoly over the Norwich to Ely line Picture: Ian Burt

Fears have been raised that rail fares could be on the rise, with Abellio set to have a monopoly over the Norwich to Ely line Picture: Ian Burt

Archant 2018

A potential monopoly over rail services in the region could see commuters hit with ever rising train fares, a government watchdog has said.

With Abellio set to be awarded the rail franchise for the East Midlands, it would mean the firm would have a complete stranglehold over the rails between Norwich and Ely.

With Abellio running both Greater Anglia and East Midlands Trains, the Competition and Markets Authority has launched a probe into whether this would pose any competition concerns - which they felt could in turn see fares on the rise.

With the Norwich to Ely service provided by Greater Anglia and Thetford to Ely by East Midlands Trains, the fear is absence of competition will see passengers hit in the pocket.

The CMA is concerned that with no other rail provider in the region, higher fares could be introduced by Abellio.

Joel Bamford, senior director of mergers at the CMA, said: "Thousands of people rely on this route so it's crucial 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.

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

A spokesman from Abellio said: "We have co-operated fully with the CMA throughout their investigation and welcome their findings.

"We will now work with the CMA to address their concerns on the Norwich to Ely and Ely to Thetford routes."

The Norwich to Ely route is a particularly important route, providing the city's main gateway to the Midlands via rail.

As the CMA investigation continues, Abellio has a limited time to demonstrate to the regulator how it will ensure passengers receive value for money.

In similar cases, where one organisation has held a monopoly over the route, concerns were resolved when operators agreed to introduce price-caps.

However, it remains to be seen at this stage whether Abellio will agree to this approach.

As it stands, the Dutch transport firm is due to take over the East Midlands franchise on Sunday, August 18, after Stagecoach - the current holder - was disqualified from bidding.

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