Train companies were yesterday accused of attempting to "bury bad news" about fare increases of up to 8 per cent by announcing "only the barest details" just two weeks in advance and on the day Parliament was packing up for Christmas.

The criticism from the rail union TSSA was among a barrage facing train operators as they told passengers their tickets would rise in cost by an average of 5.9 per cent from 2 January.

Long-distance commuters will see increases of hundreds of pounds. A season ticket from Northampton to London will go up by £308 to £4,756 and a year of travel from Folkestone to the capital rises by £260 to £4,612.

The additional burden on commuters could have been far worse. The Chancellor George Osborne reduced the cap on average fare increases from 8 per cent to 6 per cent three weeks ago, causing rail firms to hurriedly cut some of their planned price rises in time for the new year to keep within industry rules.

The Association of Train Operating Companies (Atoc) said this action was to blame for the announcement coming "a few weeks later than usual". The trade body said that only 3p in every £1 spent on tickets went towards profits and said the increases would help "pay for new trains, faster services and better stations". Atoc's chief executive, Michael Roberts, said: "The long-standing Government approach to sustaining rail investment is to cut the contribution from taxpayers and increase the share paid for by passengers."

Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the TSSA, said: "All other big companies, like Tesco and Sainsbury's, actually cut prices during the downturn, even the BBC is freezing its licence fee. But they carry on with their inflation-plus rises which will get even worse in 2013 and 2014 when passengers face RPI plus 3 per cent increases."

Sophie Allain, of Campaign for Better Transport, said: "Another new year approaches and yet another round of eye-watering train-fare hikes loom.

"We still have the highest fares in Europe, and they will be around 24 per cent higher by the next election."

Fares in numbers...

£7,488 New price of a season ticket from Swindon to London, up 6.03 per cent.

£700 New price of a season ticket from Port Talbot to Swansea, an increase of 8 per cent.

£84.50 New price of an off-peak day return from London to Cardiff, a rise of 9.7 per cent.