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Higher fares possible after First Group awarded South West Trains franchise

Rail passengers could face higher fares and worse service following the decision to award the South West Trains rail franchise to First Group. That is the warning coming from the competition watchdog.

Concerns have been raised by the Competition and Markets Authority about the London to Exeter route as First Group already operates Great Western Railway, which runs the only other train service between the cities.

The South West Trains franchise is currently operated by Stagecoach but will be taken over by First Group, in partnership with Hong Kong-based company MTR, on August 20.

"This is a crucial rail route to the South West, used by around half a million passengers a year. It's therefore vital that passengers do not suffer as a result of reduced competition."

"The CMA believes that without its intervention, First Group may be able to increase fares for passengers between London and Exeter, as it will be the only rail operator running all services on this route."

– CMA acting chief executive Andrea Coscelli
South West Trains. Credit: PA

The firms involved have five working days to offer proposals to address the competition concerns.

If these are deemed insufficient the Competition and Markets Authority can open an in-depth investigation.