Rail passengers urged to protest over fares

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The Independent Online

Rail passengers were urged today to take action in the fight for fairer train fares.

The Campaign for Better Transport (CBT), angered at the 5.8% average new year fare rises that mainline season ticket holders are now paying, asked passengers to sign petitions, write to the Government and take part in protests.

Supported by Monty Python star Michael Palin, the CBT campaign started today at Charing Cross station in London.

CBT supporters donned David Cameron and Nick Clegg facemasks, while one campaigner sported a mask of Transport Secretary Philip Hammond.

CBT chief executive Stephen Joseph said: "Commuters feel like they are being pick-pocketed by the Government, expected to pay more year on year for the same poor quality service.

"Even with the promised extra investment, many passengers will see no actual improvement to their daily commute.

"Politicians need to start living in the real world and understand that people simply cannot afford to pay a fifth of their income just to do a day's work.

"The Government pledged to create fair fares and we all expect them to keep that promise."

In a message of support today, Palin said: "Rail fare rises are holding travellers to ransom and increasing the likelihood that people will have to take to our already-overcrowded roads.

"Regular price hikes are no way for the Government and train companies to reward their regular customers.

"Instead of milking them, they should be thanking them for their loyalty with a better, simpler, more competitive fare structure."

Passengers arriving at Charing Cross today spoke angrily about the fare hikes.

Jason Homewood, 39, an accountant, travels from Maidstone in Kent into London on services run by the Southeastern train company and already pays around £3,400 for his season ticket which he will have to renew at a much higher level in May.

At Charing Cross today, he said: "On Southeastern we pay more due to the high-speed Javelin trains. But I don't use them and the service levels in my area have got worse.

"I'm paying more for services that don't actually benefit me. The service of late has been diabolical."

Water treatment engineer Colin Nash, 50, travels from Gravesend in Kent into London. He said today: "I don't think these fare rises are justified. I'm paying enough as it is."

Mr Nash's work colleague, Sam Smith, 34, from Caterham in Surrey, said: "These increases are well above inflation. They're not right."

But Rebecca Grey, 36, an advertising director from Surbiton in Surrey, said: "I get a really good rail service. I'm quite happy with it."

To add to the gloom for passengers, late-running engineering work meant services in and out of London's Liverpool Street station were delayed in the early part of the morning rush-hour today.

Also, the Northern train company had to lay on buses to replace trains between Darlington and Middlesbrough following a signalling problem.

Bob Crow, general secretary of the Rail Maritime and Transport union, said:

"RMT is fully behind the campaign to stop the rail fares rip-off that will drive people away from public transport.

"We are also calling for a freeze to the outrageous dividends paid over by the train operators to their shareholders at the expense of the quality of service.

"The jacking-up of rail fares by up to 13% as passengers return to work today is a kick in the teeth for travellers that will leave the train operating companies laughing all the way to the bank.

"The argument that this extra cash will be invested back into the railways is a sick joke. Commuters stumping up an extra 13% to travel up from Kent on Southeastern will receive exactly the same bare-bones service, in exactly the same carriages with exactly the same disregard for quality in the pursuit of profit.

"Rather than being reinvested into services, the massive increase in rail fares will simply pump up the £2 billion already ripped off from the railways by privatisation and add extra cash to the ConDem coffers through the back door in an outrageous stealth tax on passengers, while crucial rail investment remains light years away."