Ed Miliband is being urged to make a general election manifesto commitment to freeze rail fares. Union leaders say the commitment, ahead of an expected ticket price rise announcement this week, would be a vote-winner. Labour has already pledged a "tough cap" on rail ticket hikes.
Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs' Association, said he would tell Mr Miliband that prices should be frozen when the Trades Union Congress holds its annual conference next month. "If he gets elected we don't want him to raise prices at all," said Mr Cortes. "It's time that rail passengers got a break. Ed Miliband has pledged a cap, but we want him to go one step further and freeze fares. We think this is a vote-winner."
Louise Ellman, the Labour MP who chairs the Transport Select Committee, added to the pressure on her party leader yesterday. She said: "Raising rail fares puts an increased burden on people's budgets, and in some case is a tax on people getting to work. A freeze now would be helpful."
There are fears the Coalition will agree to train fares being raised by as much as 5.6 per cent from January, under a formula that uses the Retail Price Index measure of inflation for July that will be revealed this week.
Labour has focused heavily on rail policy recently. The party is considering creating a new organisation through a merger of Network Rail, which runs Britain's rail infrastructure, and a representative passenger body.
Mary Creagh, the Shadow Transport Secretary, said this would be "a single guiding mind", co-ordinating services and overseeing stations, fares and ticketing. But another policy that would allow state and not-for-profit firms to bid for franchises has been criticised. Rail insiders and lawyers warn that it could be difficult to get this past EU competition directives.
Public sector firms arguably wouldn't be risking money in the same way as a private company. Simon Coppen, a transport lawyer, said Labour faces "a challenge" to make the policy work, though Ms Creagh pointed out that "state railways are perfectly legal in European countries like France, Germany and Sweden".