Passengers say watchdog should veto rail price rises

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The Independent Online

The Government came under intense pressure yesterday to extend its control over rail fares after train companies revealed inflation-breaching price rises.

The Government came under intense pressure yesterday to extend its control over rail fares after train companies revealed inflation-breaching price rises.

Passenger groups believe that the Strategic Rail Authority should increase the scope of fare regulation as part of its review of pricing on the network.

At the moment only 40 per cent of fares are under SRA control, including on most commuter journeys where rail companies have a degree of monopoly. Long-distance "Saver" fares are capped in an attempt to ensure there are some reasonably priced "turn up and go" leisure fares.

While operators are free to increase unregulated fares by virtually any amount, other tickets can only be increased by 1 per cent less than inflation.

This is the second year running that train operators have taken the opportunity to increase some of their fares above the inflation rate.

Last year after the Hatfield disaster, a range of companies increased fares by double-digit percentage figures. This year passengers are suffering the consequences of Railtrack being put in administration.

Passenger groups said yesterday that most travellers would see no real increase in fares from January. That was no consolation to the passengers with first-class season tickets on the Norwich to London line, who are faced with rises of up to 17 per cent.

A whole range of unregulated business fares at Midland Mainline will go up by 10 per cent, which Stewart Francis, chairman of the Rail Passengers' Council, described as "unjustifiable, especially under the present circumstances".

He pointed out that in response to complaints from the council earlier this month, Tom Winsor, the rail regulator, concluded that long-distance rail companies had monopolies for certain travel markets. Mr Francis said: "We think they are exploiting these monopolies. We will continue to fight for a fair fares regime."

The new train fares are:

Anglia: London Liverpool Street to Harwich, Felixstowe, Lowestoft, Cromer, Peterborough. Season tickets only are up – between 1 per cent and 17 per cent (for Norwich to London).

Arriva Northern: Liverpool, Sheffield, Leeds, Hull, Newcastle. Fares frozen.

Arriva Merseyside: average rise of 4.2 per cent.

Central Trains: Shrewsbury, Cardiff, Birmingham, Stansted airport. All leisure fares, such as cheap day returns, up by 2.5 per cent. The leisure market makes up 60 per cent of the company's business.

Chiltern: Birmingham Snow Hill, London Marylebone. Increases range from zero to 2.3 per cent.

Connex: Charing Cross, Ramsgate, Dover, Hastings. Rises 2 per cent on average, but will vary between zero and 10 per cent. Company admits privately that administration of Railtrack has had a serious impact on services.

C2C: London Fenchurch Street, Grays, Basildon, Southend. Rises 3 per cent on average, but some increases are 5.3 per cent.

First Great Eastern: London Liverpool Street, Clacton, Harwich, Ipswich. Maximum rise 1.6 per cent. Its largely commuter business has been severely disrupted recently.

First Great Western: London Paddington, Worcester, Cardiff, Swansea, Fishguard, Exeter, Penzance. Rising 3.5 per cent to 4.4 per cent. The company is the subject of the first Rail Passenger Council inquiry into a train operator.

First North Western: London Euston, Holyhead, Liverpool, Carlisle, Wakefield. Average rise of 1.6 per cent, although discount tickets will be valid for fewer trains.

Gatwick Express: London Victoria to Gatwick airport only. Fares are being increased by between 2.2 per cent and 5 per cent.

Great North Eastern Railways: London King's Cross, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Inverness. First and standard open returns up by between 1.5 per cent and 5 per cent – an average of 2.8 per cent. Standard season increases by less than 1 per cent. Saver tickets cut by average 2.4 per cent.

Midland Mainline: London St Pancras, Leeds. Most up by between 2 and 4 per cent, but first premier, first open, first saver and standard open are up by 10 per cent.

Silverlink: Clapham Junction, London Euston, Bletchley, Northampton, Birmingham New Street. Varies from 1.2 per cent reduction to 4.4 per cent increase. Discount fares between London and Birmingham up by 12 per cent. The company argues they have been held at an artificially low price for years.

Scotrail: Stranraer, Carlisle, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Fort William, Aberdeen, Inverness, Thurso. Average increase 3 per cent. On many routes peak single tickets held to 1 per cent rise, except fares in the Edinburgh area which will go up by a flat rate of 10p.

South West Trains: London Waterloo, Exeter, Portsmouth, Bournemouth, Reading. Up to 1.6 per cent. Part of the Stagecoach Group, it has been under constant attack for overcrowding on commuter services into London.

Thameslink: Brighton, London Bridge, St Albans, Bedford. Off-peak fares up by between 1.6 per cent and 2.6 per cent

Virgin West Coast: London Euston to Glasgow; and Virgin Cross-Country: Penzance, Ramsgate, Aberdeen. After constant criticism, especially about the level of "walk-on fares", prices have been frozen.

West Anglia Great Northern: London King's Cross, Peterborough, Stansted airport King's Lynn. Rises by between zero and 6 per cent.