25% Railcard increase sparks 'rip-off' row

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The Independent Online

A fresh row over "rip off" rail fares erupted today after it was disclosed that the cost of a Network Railcard is to increase by 25 per cent.

The card, which offers discounted travel on trains in South East England and London, will go up from £20 to £25 from 17 May.

The minimum fare for card users will increase from £10 to £13.

Student and old people's railcards will increase by £2 to £26 on the same day, while minimum fares for students and members of the armed forces will increase from £8 to £12.

The increases were disclosed by the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, whose members working in ticket offices received letters this week detailing the new prices.

General secretary Gerry Doherty said: "This increase is outrageous even by the low money grabbing standards usually employed by the private rail companies."

The union said the rise was the third faced by rail passengers this year after a rise in peak fares in January and a recent increase in off peak fares in some parts of the country.

"This is daylight robbery but even Dick Turpin would have thought twice about holding up the same stagecoach three times in five months."

The union urged Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon to intervene to halt the increases, calling for all fare rises to be limited to one annual rise.

"I would urge Hoon to now act against these greedy firms who have turned our industry into the rip off capital of Europe," added Mr Doherty.

"But he will continue to sit on his hands and do nothing while Britain has the most expensive fares in Europe and the most overcrowded trains in Europe."

The Association of Train Operating Companies confirmed the railcard increases, arguing that they still offered excellent value for money.

The Network Railcard had not increased for 12 years, during which time the cost of living had jumped by 30 per cent, while the minimum fare had remained the same for the past seven years, said a spokesman.

"We don't put up prices lightly, but these cards have not gone up for a long time. They offer excellent value for money and most people will get their money back on one or two journeys."