The price of a return rail ticket in Britain is to be capped at £500 – more than a return flight to New York or two tickets on the Orient Express with dinner and champagne.
The initiative is part of a series of measures designed to tackle anger over rising rail fares.
Under plans announced by the Transport Secretary, Norman Baker, rail operators are also expected to trial part-time season tickets and reform the current pricing structure that has seen one-way tickets priced just £1 cheaper than return fares in certain cases.
The cap on “walk-on” fares will see single tickets charged at no more than £250 and the standard return fares limited to £500. But campaigners dismissed the move last night – branding it “cosmetic” and “irrelevant to the needs of ordinary commuters”.
The TUC General Secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: “This cap is a gimmick that does nothing to help the vast majority of rail users or any of the millions of commuters who face wage-busting season ticket rises next January.
“The fact that rail companies have volunteered this cap shows they know the fares they charge are too high. But the only way to bring down fares is to reform our wasteful, fragmented system of privatised rail companies and start bringing them back into public ownership.”
Britain has some of the highest rail fares in Europe and train operators have come in for severe criticism for the escalation of prices which increased for the 10th year in a row at the start of January. But immediate relief is unlikely: tickets are widely expected to increase by 4.1 per cent next January under current plans.
Further frustration currently stems from reported inconsistencies in how ticket machines, train operator websites and booking officers inform passengers of low fares. Under Mr Baker’s plans, a study will be conducted into the issue with steps on how they can be resolved.
Mr Baker said: “These measures, coupled with the radical ticketing changes I announced earlier this week, constitute a raft of improvements and greater flexibility for passengers.”
Stephen Joseph, chief executive of the Campaign for Better Transport, said: “It’s good news that these fares are being capped, but they’re still astronomically expensive and few people use them. We need to make our railways more affordable for all passengers. We should start by ending the decade-long policy of above inflation fares rises for season tickets.”