The investigation comes after the European Commission referred the case to the British government under Article 4 (4) of the EC Merger Regulation.

The first phase of the investigation will consider whether the transaction could result in the creation of a “relevant merger situation” under the provisions of the Enterprise Act 2002 and, if so, whether this could result in reduced competition.

The CMA is inviting the submission of written responses by October 4, with a November 21 deadline for a decision on Phase 1 of the investigation.

The 70:30 First Trenitalia West Coast Rail joint venture was confirmed as preferred bidder for the WCP franchise on August 14. The operator is due to take over InterCity West Coast operations from Virgin Trains in December.