UK rail fares to jump 3.2% in January as Chris Grayling calls for railway wage changes

‘Rail passengers have endured enough from the failures of the rail network this year, and being asked to pay more again next year will be a bitter pill to swallow,’ says the Campaign for Better Transport

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Wednesday 15 August 2018 14:36
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Simon Calder: UK rail fares to jump 3.2% in January

Commuters from the transport secretary’s constituency will pay an extra £65 to get to work in London next year – with season ticket prices set to rise nearly twice as fast as wages.

The July Retail Price Index measure of inflation (RPI) of 3.2 per cent is used to set “regulated” rail fares, including season tickets in the London area.

Chris Grayling is MP for Epsom and Ewell. The price of an annual season ticket from Epsom to London will rise from £2,040 to £2,105 in January.

Transport secretary Chris Grayling asks rail unions to base wage negotiations on CPI

The increase is particularly politically sensitive because of the fiasco surrounding the introduction of new timetables in the southeast and northwest.

Travellers using Northern Rail and Govia Thameslink trains have endured widespread cancellations, while improvements elsewhere due to be introduced in December have been postponed. Mr Grayling has called the disruption “completely unacceptable”.

According to the most recent figures from the Office for National Statistics, average weekly wages in June 2018 had risen 1.9 per cent in a year – barely half the rate of increase of rail fares.

Other regulated fares, including many off-peak return tickets on long distance journeys and “anytime” tickets around major cities, will also rise by 3.2 per cent, except in Scotland where increases are capped at RPI minus 1 per cent.

A Bristol-London off-peak return, currently £79.80, will increase by £2.60. Between Birmingham and Newcastle, a £115.50 return will rise to £119.20.

The price of an annual season ticket between Edinburgh and Glasgow will rise £50 to £2,410.

The unions say that rail fares have risen by 40 per cent in a decade. Between 2004 and 2013, fares increased by more than the RPI.

The Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operators and Network Rail, says that the average rail journey price has increased in real terms by 4.9 per cent. Its chief executive, Paul Plummer, says: “Fares are underpinning a once-in-a-generation investment plan to improve the railway, and politicians effectively determine that season ticket prices should change in line with other day-to-day costs to help fund this.

“While the industry is learning lessons from the recent timetable change, major improvements have been delivered this year, from upgraded stations at London Bridge and Liverpool Lime Street to new trains in the southwest and Scotland and more will be delivered in the next year.”

The RPI figure is also generally used to cap, formally or informally, unregulated fares – except for advance tickets which are demand-dependent.

On this basis, Virgin Trains’ London-Manchester one-way fare of £169 will rise to £174.

The Campaign for Better Transport is calling for a freeze on regulated rail fares for 2019. Its public transport campaigner, Steve Chambers, says: “Rail passengers have endured enough from the failures of the rail network this year, and being asked to pay more again next year will be a bitter pill to swallow.

“With the pressure on household budgets, this further increase in the cost of getting to work will hit people hard.”

The organisation is also calling for future increases to be based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which is typically 1 per cent lower than RPI.

The transport secretary has proposed that CPI should be used for regulated train ticket rises and annual pay increases for rail staff – mimicking the Scottish government’s formula of RPI minus 1 per cent.

Mr Grayling told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We have to make a transition to CPI, but it can’t be done overnight.

“Nearly half the cost of the rail industry is pay.”

The unions say that cuts in rail fares should be funded from the profits of the train operators, and have accused Chris Grayling of trying to impose a cap on wages.

Mick Whelan, general secretary of the train drivers’ union Aslef, said: “Cutting staff wages would not reduce fares, it would only increase the profitability [of the train operators].

“It’s purely smoke and mirrors.”

The rail industry is consulting on “root and branch reform” of the complex and often illogical fares system, but that campaign will have no effect on the next rises.

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