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Network Rail to hand out £35m expenses to staff in travel expenses

Commuters struggle with above-inflation hikes while state-backed staff claim train tickets

Network Rail has signalled it is to pay nearly £35m in train-travel expenses to its staff in 2011-13, around £1,000 per employee, as passengers suffer massive New Year fare increases.

Senior industry insiders were shocked that the state-backed owner and operator of most of Britain's rail infrastructure had paid out such vast expenses. One said: "That's a huge amount, especially as a good proportion of that 34,000 workforce will be from the old British Rail, so they'll have free travel."

Staff who worked for British Rail before privatisation 20 years ago had rail-pass perks safeguarded as part of the terms of the deal. Some workers employed since then have passes that allow them more limited free travel.

This comes as commuters see big increases in their ticket prices for the 10th consecutive year. The Government has argued that it is only fair that passengers pay for improvements to the railways.

However, rail minister Norman Baker angered many with his comments that the above-inflation rises were "not nearly as expensive as is being presented" once discounted fares such as advance tickets were included.

Rail fares have increased by an average of 3.9 per cent, while the House of Commons transport committee argued that ministers should instead crush the £4bn a year in state subsidies granted to train companies.

One extraordinary example of the inflation-busting rises is a season ticket from Sevenoaks in Kent to London, which has gone up from £1,660 to £3,112 over a decade.

Ultimately, Network Rail receives a chunk of the fare revenue to help fund its £6bn a year budget, meaning that the taxpayer and those travellers' wallets that are hit by the fare rises will pay for its staff to be reimbursed.

National Rail's figures showed that its staff claimed nearly £1.9m for rail travel in the 2011-12 financial year. The first 24 weeks of its financial year 2012-13 saw around £8.2m spent on rail travel which, on the current trajectory, would see close to £18m paid out this year. More than £9.5m was spent in hotels in the last financial year, with a further £4.1m claimed in the first half of 2012-13.

A Network Rail spokesman insisted that the expenses were vital for the smooth running of the business and were not dissimilar to other organisations that are based across the UK. He said: "We are a distributed business in Great Britain, which means our staff have to operate in many parts of the country."