Latest rise in rail fares fuels reshuffle speculation

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Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has come under fire for being in Qatar as rail passengers are hit with the largest fare rise in five years.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has come under fire for being in Qatar as rail passengers are hit with the largest fare rise in five years.

Chris Grayling. Picture: Victoria Jones/PA Wire

Chris Grayling. Picture: Victoria Jones/PA Wire

Mr Grayling was in Qatar yesterday to meet members of the Gulf state’s government and business leaders.

Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald claimed the timing of the two-day visit “smacks of a man running scared” as the cost of train tickets rose by an average across Britain of 3.4 per cent.

He went on: “Passengers and taxpayers deserve better than a failing Transport Secretary who refuses to defend his track record.”

Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT trade union, said passengers forking out more for train travel will “draw their own conclusions” from Mr Grayling’s decision to take a “trip to the Qatari sunshine”.

ScotRail fares have increased by an average of 3.2 per cent, with peak tickets going up by 3.6 per cent. The RMT has renewed its call for Scotland’s rail services to be taken into public ownership as commuters north of the Border return to work today.

The union said the rise comes at a time when earnings are falling in real terms.

Its members will be leafleting passengers at several stations today to highlight the case for public ownership.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said that while revenues for ScotRail operator Abellio would increase, rail travel is “becoming increasingly unaffordable for many”.

Scottish Labour also contrasted the fare increases with a fall in earnings.

Meanwhile, there is growing speculation Mr Grayling could lose his job in a reshuffle by Prime Minister Theresa May. Mr Grayling has been one of the most frequently mentioned candidates for the chop in speculation about changes to Mrs May’s top team after Damian Green was sacked.

Conservative chairman Sir Patrick McLoughlin, Education Secretary Justine Greening and Leader of the Commons Andrea Leadsom have also been tipped as possible casualties.

It is thought Mr Grayling’s position may have been made more secure by a demand for his removal from Labour peer Lord Adonis. Few prime ministers are willing to be seen to be sacrificing a colleague in response to pressure from political opponents.