Rail Fare Protests As Charges Set To Increase

Protests against rail fare rises will be held across the country today amid warnings that the cost of train travel is set to be 40% higher from the new year than six years ago.

Next January's rise will be the sixth time in seven years that rail fares have outstripped wages, said campaigners.

Between 2008 and next January rail fares will have jumped by 40%, compared with a 15% increase in average earnings, it was claimed.

The TUC and the Action for Rail campaign group will stage a series of demonstrations at almost 50 stations, including Bimingham New Street to mark the publication of the latest RPI inflation figure, which is used to calculate next year's rail fare rise.

Analysts predict that RPI will be 3.3% today, which would see regulated rail fares increase by 4.3% in January, well above average wage rises.

The TUC warned that some season tickets could rise by 9%, against forecasts of a 2.4% increase in average earnings next year.

The union organisation said rail privatisation was costing taxpayers #1.2 billion a year despite ''minimal'' investment in trains and stations.

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: ''Every year hard-pressed rail commuters have to hand over an ever greater share of their earnings just to get to and from work.

''Wage-busting fare rises are not even going on much needed service improvements either. Instead, passenger and public subsidies are lining the pockets of the shareholders of private rail companies.

''You only have to look at the nationalised East Coast mainline to see that public ownership of the railways not only works, it provides a better deal for passengers and taxpayers alike.

Unite national officer Julia Long said: ''The current system of privately owned operators is haemorrhaging enough cash each year to cut fares by at least 18%, without reducing staff or services. Yet every year we see fares soar way beyond the inflation rate.''

Campaign for Better Transport published research showing that rail fares are increasing nearly twice as fast as incomes, outstripping increases in wages by nearly 14% since 2007.

Chief executive Stephen Joseph said: ''Getting to work is now the biggest single monthly outgoing for many commuters - more than food, more than housing.

''One of the surest ways of stamping on any green shoots of recovery is to price people off the trains and out of the jobs market.

''For the sake of the economy, we should end above-inflation fare increases now and start planning for fare reductions.''

Michael Roberts, chief executive of the Association of Train Operating Companies, said: ''Government determines how the average season ticket price rise is set each year. Since 2004, it has been Government policy to allow regulated fares to rise above inflation in order to support investment in more trains, better stations and faster services.

''This is helping to drive passenger satisfaction to near-record levels while seeking to reduce taxpayers' contribution towards the cost of running the railways.

''In order to help limit future fare rises, the rail industry is working with the Government to find ways of providing services even more efficiently, building on the progress that has already been made.''

A Department for Transport spokesman said: ''The Government is investing record amounts into our railways, which will help deliver economic growth, improve performance and significantly boost passenger capacity.

''However, we also recognise it is tough for passengers. That is why we are already limiting these rises by capping the average regulated fares increase at 1% in real terms and will be announcing further measures to ensure greater fairness on fares for passengers later this year.''

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