Dismay as rail prices soar by three times inflation

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The Independent Online

Unregulated train fares are to soar by up to 8.8 per cent in the new year, three times the inflation rate. The company registering the largest increase is Great North Eastern Railways, operating the London-Edinburgh flagship route.

Other operators showing big unregulated rises are Virgin West Coast with an average increase of 5.9 per cent, Midland Mainline 6 per cent, Silverlink 6.1 per cent and Central Trains 6.4 per cent.

The price of unregulated tickets - cheap day returns and some advance tickets - will rise by an average 4.5 per cent throughout the network. Most regulated fares - seasons and "saver tickets" - will go up by 3.9 per cent, 1 per cent above the inflation rate.

The Rail Passengers Council (RPC) said the average rise of 4.5 per cent for unregulated fares masked steep increases on many routes. Anthony Smith, the RPC chief executive, said: "These inflation-busting price hikes are a disappointing early Christmas present for passengers. The rail industry is going to have to work hard to demonstrate that these rises represent value for money.

"Good-value rail travel can be had, if you can get hold of the tickets in advance. But many walk-on fares are at eye-watering levels: £202 for return travel between Manchester and London bought on the day, means passengers are paying nearly £50 an hour for the privilege of taking the train. Just what sort of railway are we creating?"

George Muir, director general of the Association of Train Operating Companies, said operators needed the extra revenue to pay for "the big improvements" being made to the railways. "Our railways are the fastest-growing in Europe and operators will continue to introduce new trains, better passenger facilities and improved travel information," Mr Muir said.

A spokesman for GNER said the hike was part of an attempt to make the fares structure more logical. The spokesman agreed the company also needed to increase revenue to pay the £1.3bn promised to the Treasury by 2015.

Tom Brake, the Liberal Democrat transport spokes-man, said passengers would be "exasperated" by the fare rises while overcrowding on their trains worsened.

The white-collar transport union TSSA said forcing passengers to pay up to 9 per cent more in ticket fares was "outrageous", adding: "The reality is that the taxpayers rather than the train-operating companies pay for many of the improvements on the railways. They paid the operators £1.3bn in subsidies in 2003. So forcing passengers to pay over the odds effectively amounts to a double taxation."

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