Rail fares rise despite strikes and widespread cancellations for long-suffering commuters

Increase of 2.7 per cent for most train travellers, but North Wales passengers see fares fall

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
@SimonCalder
Thursday 02 January 2020 01:22
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Rail fares rise across Britain

Long-suffering rail passengers returning to work after the Christmas and new year break will pay more for the privilege of commuting to work – with some fares rising to more than £1 per mile.

As is now traditional, the widespread rail engineering projects across the festive season give way to a rise in train fares.

Between London and Manchester, a standard one-way “Anytime” ticket on Avanti West Coast goes up by £5 to £180.

On the same line, the price per mile between Watford Junction and Rugby has risen above £1 for the first time, with the 65-mile journey costing £65.20.

Commuters to London from Welwyn Garden City, which the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, represents, are paying an extra £83 for an annual season ticket – now priced at £3,097.

Between Winchester and London Waterloo, the busiest station in Britain, a year’s season ticket now costs £5,520, an increase of £148.

Yet for the past month, commuters and leisure passengers on this and other South Western Railway lines have had to put up with barely half the usual number of trains, because of a strike by members of the RMT union in a long-running dispute over the role of guards.

Travellers in northern England have faced widespread cancellations, with services axed by Northern Rail and TransPennine Express because of staff shortage.

The general fare increase across Britain is 2.7 per cent – fractionally less than the Retail Price Index (RPI) measure of inflation as it stood in July 2019, but almost twice the more commonly used Consumer Price Index.

RPI is the statutory limit for “regulated” rail fares, which include weekly season tickets and most commuter fares in and around big cities, as well as off-peak return fares for longer journeys.

The aim of the price cap is to protect passengers who are regarded as having little choice about using rail services from excessive increases.

A return from Aberystwyth to Birmingham International has gone up by more than a pound to £40.40. Between Bristol and Newcastle, an off-peak return now costs £167.35, up £4.60.

Non-regulated fares typically rise by about the same amount, although Advance tickets are priced in response to passenger demand.

The Rail Delivery Group, representing train operators and Network Rail, says increased revenue will help fund improvements to the railway.

The organisation said: “Rail passengers across the country are set to benefit from 1,000 extra train carriages, with better technology on board to improve journey planning and accessibility.

“This will grow the nation’s fleet from nearly 15,000 train carriages today to almost 16,000 by the end of 2020.”

The shadow transport secretary, Andy McDonald, said: “Ticket prices have risen by 40 per cent since 2010.

“It shows that this government is not serious about supporting either public transport or tackling climate change, road congestion or air quality.

“In contrast, rail fares in Germany were cut by 10 per cent yesterday.”

Consumer groups have called for radical reform to the fares system.

David Sidebottom, director at the independent watchdog Transport Focus, said: “After a year of pretty poor performance in some areas passengers just want a consistent day-to-day service they can rely on and a better chance of getting a seat.

“Transport Focus has long called for a fares system that is simple to use, easy to understand and is flexible enough to cater to how people work and travel today.”

Keith Williams, who is leading a review of the railway which is shortly to be published, said last year: “To create a modern, customer-focused railway we must tackle fares reform.

“The structure hasn’t been substantially updated since 1995 and is holding back innovation and customer-focused improvements across the network.”

Passengers in Scotland will see fares rise by an average of 1.8 per cent, because the government in Edinburgh caps the increase at RPI minus 1 per cent.

While most fares in Wales have gone up by around 2.7 per cent, passengers using the railways in North Wales west of Chester to Holyhead, Blaenau Ffestiniog and Llandudno will see a sharp fall in the cost of tickets.

On a pence-per-mile basis, tickets in North Wales have been higher than those in the south, so a 10 per cent fare cut has taken effect – although offset by the general fares rise.

A return from Prestatyn to Holyhead falls from £21.30 to £19.70, and from Chester to Bangor the saving is £2.30 - taking the cost below £30.

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