Lincoln routes reviewed as watchdog questions East Coast rail transfer

Lincoln rail passengers using the East Coast mainline may face ‘higher fares’ and a ‘reduced service quality’ unless changes are made to avoid concerns from the competition watchdog.

As previously reported, Inter City Railways Ltd (ICRL), owned by Stagecoach and Virgin Trains, is due to take over the East Coast franchise, on March 1.

However, a review by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) watchdog has warned that competition could be reduced on sections of the East Coast line on which Stagecoach already operates.

Routes which could be affected include sections between Peterborough and Grantham and between Peterborough and Lincoln, which overlap with East Midlands Trains services – operated by Stagecoach.

The CMA said that on both of the overlapping rail services there was no other rail operator and only a minimal coach service.

ICRL has until February 20 to offer solutions to resolve the concerns identified by the CMA.

Andrea Coscelli, Executive Director for Markets and Mergers at the CMA said: “Our investigation has shown that no significant competition concerns arise on most routes where East Coast services overlap with existing Stagecoach or Virgin Trains rail or coach services.

“However, we found that the award could give rise to higher fares or reduced service quality for rail passengers travelling between Peterborough, Grantham and Lincoln, in some cases possibly affecting thousands of consumers relying on public transport services.”

The CMA added that there was also an overlap of East Coast rail services with Citylink coach services, operated and jointly owned by Stagecoach, between Edinburgh and Dundee as well as between Edinburgh and Aberdeen.

A Stagecoach spokesperson said: “The company will study the detail of the CMA’s review decision and work constructively with the authority to address the issues raised with a view to running services under the Virgin Trains East Coast brand as planned from 1 March 2015.”

A Department for Transport spokesperson added: “We are confident that this franchise gives the best deal for passengers. It will provide more seats, more services, new trains and over £140m of investment along the route.

“Stagecoach/Virgin will take over responsibility for the franchise on March 1 2015 as planned. They are now working to address the CMA’s concerns.”