A train journey to London? It's cheaper to fly 4,000 miles away to Caribbean
UNIONS and passenger groups yesterday hit out at a new rail-franchise deal and highlighted the fact that it is cheaper to fly to the Caribbean than take a return trip by train between Scotland and London.
The National Express Group, which is today due to take over the running of the East Coast main line, has come under fire for the franchise contract which will see its fares rise by 2.1 per cent above the rate of inflation in each of the next eight years.
All of Scotland's rail operators have announced inflation-busting fare increases in recent months, but a standard open return train ticket from Edinburgh to London could cost 339 by 2015 under the new franchise, which will also see the familiar name of GNER replaced by National Express East Coast.
National Express took over the route from GNER, whose financial troubles meant it could not afford to pay the government 1.3 billion a year for the right to run the service.
The Rail Maritime and Transport (RMT) union last night said it would resist any attempt to make its members "pay" for the National Express franchise deal with jobs, pay or conditions.
The general secretary, Bob Crow, said: "GNER's collapse under Sea Containers jeopardised jobs and services on one of our key spinal railways, but the government is refusing to learn the lesson that franchising won't deliver the railway we need.
"The environment is crying out for a rail network that is affordable and encourages people out of their cars and on to trains, but the new East Coast franchise will deliver the opposite.
"An open standard return to Inverness from King's Cross could already cost you 298, and you could fly out to Antigua for 2 less, even including fuel and passenger duty. Add eight years' worth of inflation-busting increases on to that, and the Caribbean will be even cheaper by comparison."
National Express last night said its passengers will see an improvement in services for the fare increase and highlighted that only 30 per cent of all tickets sold are open returns.
But James King, who represents Scotland on the board of official watchdog Passenger Focus, said passengers do not feel they are getting value for money from their train fares.
He said: "The National Express deal is one of many above-inflation fare increases that passengers will struggle to digest.
"Our last national survey showed that half of GNER passengers do not feel they get value for money and it will be interesting to see what people make of it next time round.
"For passengers who can afford to be flexible when they travel then there is still value to be had, but the majority of passengers will not be able to escape the above-inflation increases in fares."
The UK network has been Europe's fastest-growing railway over the past ten years, carrying nearly a billion passengers in that time. A new 2008 winter timetable that gets underway today will see a record 20,000 passenger services running on Britain's railways every weekday, according to the Association of Train Operating Companies.
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Tuesday 21 May 2013
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