RAIL FARE rises have been accompanied by all-too-familiar failings on tracks and trains with services on Merseyrail disrupted during the rush hour.
The January 2015 increase follows weeks of disruption to rush-hour services with problems for passengers compounded by over-running festive engineering work.
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On Friday, London Midland trains between London and Crewe were delayed as were Virgin’s Trent Valley services.
The over-run last Saturday led to chaotic scenes, with King’s Cross and Paddington stations in London having to be closed and also resulted, eventually, in Network Rail chief executive Mark Carne announcing he would not be taking his annual performance-related bonus.
Friday’s increase sees regulated fares, which include season tickets, going up by up to 2.5 per cent, while the average rise for all fares is 2.2 per cent.
The rail industry has said that this is the lowest annual rise for five years. But campaign groups and trade unions have pointed out that the annual rises in fares have far outstripped the rises in wages and that Britons pay some of the highest rail fares in Europe.
According to TUC figures, UK commuters spend more than twice as much of their salary on rail fares than some European passengers.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “This year’s fare hike will hit passengers particularly hard because wages are rising so slowly.
“Rail fares are now consuming a huge proportion of people’s wages, leaving precious little for other bread and butter expenses. On average passengers are now paying £600 more for a season ticket and yet seeing no change in their pay packets.”
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “The scandal of Britain’s great rail fares rip off continues with today’s hike far outstripping average pay increases, and it will once again hit those at the sharp end of the austerity clampdown the hardest.”
Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said services over the Christmas period were typical of “a system that has flatly failed”.
She added: “Rail privatisation has become characterised by poor services, cramped trains and extortionate fares. It’s ripping off passengers, harming the economy and failing the environment.”
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “We are investing in the biggest rail modernisation since the Victorian era and fares have a crucial role to play in funding these improvements. This is because building better infrastructure helps create jobs, building a stronger economy for us all.
“We recognise passengers’ concerns about the cost of rail fares. This is why we have frozen them for the second year in a row. We are protecting passengers even further by stopping operating companies from increasing individual fares by up to 2 per cent more.”
Michael Roberts, director general of the Rail Delivery Group representing rail operators and Network Rail, said: “At 2.2 per cent, the average increase in fares in 2015 is the lowest for five years. We understand no one likes to pay more, especially to go to work. For every £1 spent on fares, 97p goes on track, train, staff and other costs while 3p goes in profits earned by train companies for running services on Europe’s fastest growing railway.
“We are very sorry that many passengers experienced a service well short of what they deserved last weekend. To ensure we build a better railway, Network Rail is spending £38 billion over five years alongside commitments made by train companies. This will deliver more seats, better stations and improved journeys for passengers.”
Shadow transport secretary Michael Dugher said: “David Cameron is presiding over a rip-off railway in Britain. He has failed to stand up for working people struggling with the cost-of-living crisis and has allowed the train companies to hit passengers with massive fare rises of over 20 per cent since 2010.
“Some season tickets have now risen by over 30 per cent under this Government, forcing people to pay thousands of pounds more to commute to work on increasingly overcrowded trains.”
He went on: “Out-of-touch ministers talk about ‘fair fares for comfortable commuting’, but this is a world away from the reality for millions of hard-up commuters.
“Labour would deliver a better deal for passengers and taxpayers by reforming the railways, simplifying the ticketing system and enforcing a strict cap on fares on every route.”
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