Fares hike as £8bn rail package unveiled

Passengers facing huge hikes in train fares were today promised hundreds of new carriages after the Government committed itself to an £8 billion package of new rail schemes.

But there were warnings that overcrowding on trains is still likely to continue because customers will have to wait until 2019 to get all the 2,100 carriages promised.

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said the Government had to "invest in Britain's future" and the new carriages would "help make our railways fit for the 21st century".

But shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle said passengers facing "massive increases in fares" would be disappointed the Government was "delaying new trains".

There were concerns among Welsh politicians that Mr Hammond had deferred a decision on whether electrification of the Great Western line would be extended to Wales.

But in London there was a welcome for Mr Hammond's commitment to funding the £6 billion Bedford-Brighton north-south Thameslink project in its entirety but dismay that the scheme was going to finish two years' late - in 2018.

And there was also concern that Mr Hammond had also deferred a decision on the replacement of ageing Intercity high-speed trains.

Among projects announced were:

* 2,100 new carriages by May 2019 but only 650 of them by 2014 - far fewer than the 1,300 originally promised by 2014 by Labour, a pledge Mr Hammond said was "never deliverable";

* Funding for the Thameslink project in its entirety but the completion put back two years due to reprogramming of work at London Bridge;

* A £600 million electrification, to be completed by 2016, of the Great Western line from London to Didcot, Oxford and Newbury but a decision on electrification of the rest of the line to Wales deferred until the new year;

* A £300 million electrification of lines between Liverpool, Manchester, Preston and Blackpool with work due to be completed by 2016;

* A deferring until the new year of a decision on the Intercity Express Programme (IEP) - the project to replace the Intercity 225 trains, some of which date back to the 1970s.

Mr Hammond's announcement came just days after rail passengers learnt earlier this week that rail fares would rise by an inflation-busting 6.2% in the new year, with some travellers facing rises of nearly 13%.

Jo deBank, of rail passenger watchdog London TravelWatch, said Thameslink passengers would have to "endure severe disruption" for longer.

Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan said the proposal to extend Great Western electrification to Wales was still under "serious consideration".

But Plaid AM Dai Lloyd said: "This once again proves that for the Conservatives and the Lib Dems, Wales is nothing more than an afterthought."

And Wales's First Minister Carwyn Jones said the deferring of the Great Western electrification decision was "very disappointing".

Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT union, said the announcement was "classic political smoke and mirrors" with the new-carriage numbers being "dressed up to look better than they are".

Gerry Doherty, leader of the TSSA rail union, said: "Passengers will obviously be pleased that this will ease their cattle truck-style journeys but they still face a giant 30% jump in their fares over the next four years just to pay for the privilege of a seat."

Campaign for Better Transport chief executive Stephen Joseph said: "The reality is that, for the immediate future, passengers face huge fare increases along with continued overcrowding and in some cases poor facilities."

Michael Roberts, chief executive of the Association of Train Operating Companies (Atoc), welcomed the announcement but said it "still leaves several questions unanswered".

He added that the Intercity Express Programme had started five years ago and had already cost more than £20 million in consultancy fees but was "yet to produce a single carriage".

The Intercity Express Programme (IEP) was halted by the Labour government earlier this year and an independent review was set up which reported to the new Government in June.

The Government said it was looking at two options - a revised bid from the original preferred bidder Agility, a consortium led by Japanese company Hitachi; and an alternative for a fleet of all-electric trains.

Should Hitachi be successful, it plans to develop a site at Newton Aycliffe in County Durham in a project that will create hundreds of jobs and be worth an estimated £660 million to the north east England economy over 20 years.

A spokesman for Hitachi said: "We are disappointed that there is yet no decision on our bid for the IEP, and therefore on our plans to bring jobs to the UK. We will be continuing our talks with the Department for Transport and will consider our position in the light of these."

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