Calls to freeze train fares in the North after a summer of rail chaos
The Government was today facing calls for rail fares to be frozen for northern passengers after a summer of disruption and delays across the region's network.
Dewsbury MP Paula Sherriff joined the metro mayors of Greater Manchester and the Liverpool City Region in writing to Transport Secretary Chris Grayling ahead of the announcement of the annual fare increase on Wednesday.
The exact increase will be confirmed when the July Retail Prices Index (RPI) measure of inflation is released by the Office for National Statistics, but economists from Investec and the EY Item Club both predict the figure will be announced as 3.5 per cent.
The Department for Transport (DfT) uses July’s RPI to determine the annual increase in regulated train fares, which comes into force every January.
Regulated fares include season tickets on most commuter routes, some off-peak return tickets on long distance journeys and Anytime tickets around major cities. These fares went up by 3.6 per cent this year.
Large parts of the North saw rail services plunged into chaos following the botched introduction of a new timetable by operator Northern in May.
Disruption has continued in recent weeks and this weekend Northern cancelled 80 services, including trains on the Liverpool to Manchester Airport line in the third successive week of Sunday cancellations.
In an open letter to Mr Grayling, Labour MP Ms Sherriff said: “To again increase fares faster than wages for passengers in the North would only add insult to injury.
“People in my constituency should not have to pay more for the shocking level of service they have experienced this summer. After months of misery on our region’s railways, a freeze in fares going into the new year should be the bare minimum that passengers in my constituency should be able to expect.”
In their letter, mayors Burnham and Rotheram say: “Over the past few months travelling by train in the North has become a lottery, where passengers turn up at stations with no idea if there will be a train or whether they will arrive at their destination on time.
“This crisis has caused real damage to the North – the current estimate is that at least £38m has been lost from the economy – and has led to many commuters turning their backs on using the train and seeking other means of getting around.”
A DfT spokesman said: “Any fare increase is unwelcome, but it is not fair to ask people who do not use trains to pay more for those who do.
“Taxpayers already subsidise the network by more than £4 billion a year - meaning that 38% of our transport budget is spent on the two per cent of journeys that the railway accounts for.”
Rail Delivery Group Chief Executive Paul Plummer said: “We can’t speculate ahead of Wednesday’s publication of the RPI inflation figure, which government has decided determines the increase in season tickets, in line with other day to day prices.
“Of every pound spent on train fares, 98p is invested back into the railway, helping to underpin a once-in-a-generation investment to change and improve for the benefit of our customers, local communities and UK economy.”
The fare increase announcement comes as new research shows passenger satisfaction with rail punctuality and reliability has fallen in the last 10 years.
Analysis of Transport Focus survey results by consumer group Which? revealed that the proportion of people satisfied with those categories of train performance declined from 79 per cent in spring 2008 to 73 per cent in spring 2018.
A Campaign for Better Transport spokesman said: “Given the mess surrounding the new timetable, the lack of improvements and the failure to deliver compensation, the Government cannot go on telling passengers that fare increases are justified.”
Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald claimed Transport Secretary Chris Grayling’s handling of the railways is “now beyond a joke”.
He called for the Government to freeze fares on the routes most severely affected by the timetable changes - Govia Thameslink Railway, Northern and TransPennine Express - as a “small gesture of goodwill towards those passengers who have suffered”.
Mick Cash, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, described the looming far increase as “another kick in the teeth for Britain’s passengers”.