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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 January 2008, 19:14 GMT
Watchdog condemns rail fare hikes
train
Customers are being asked to pay more for their tickets
A consumer watchdog has labelled looming above-inflation rail fare rises "unfair and unjustified".

While regulated fares, which include most season tickets, are going up by an average of 4.8% from Wednesday, other fares are set to rise by more than 9%.

Anthony Smith, chief executive of Passenger Focus, said passengers were even being asked to pay more on train lines that had poor service records.

Campaigners also argue that the hikes will drive people back into their cars.

'Price-freeze needed'

"A chill wind will blow down many of Britain's platforms when passengers find out their new fares," Mr Smith said of the increases, which he said were disproportionately high on some routes.

He said matters were made worse by the fact that many of the price jumps were on routes that continually disappointed customers with poor performance ratings.

Once again, the government is talking tall but walking short when it comes to ensuring the transport sector tackles climate change
Stephen Joseph, Campaign for Better Transport

"Train companies that are not delivering a quality service should freeze their prices.

"Passengers who are not getting what they have paid for must complain to their train company so the message is received loud and clear."

Stephen Joseph, executive director of the Campaign for Better Transport, said: "These fare spikes are bad for people and bad for the environment.

"Once again, the government is talking tall but walking short when it comes to ensuring the transport sector tackles climate change. If it is serious about tackling climate change, it must ensure train journeys are an attractive, affordable option for people."

HAVE YOUR SAY
Fares should be so cheap that owning a car seems ridiculous
Kevin Williamson, Swansea

London TravelWatch, the watchdog for transport users in and around London, singled out the fare rises on First Great Western (FGW) as excessive and called for an independent audit of this year's fare rises.

Chairman Brian Cooke said for the second quarter of 2007, FGW's trains were delayed three times more than any other company, making fare rises "a bitter pill".

George Muir, director-general of the Association of Train Operating Companies (Atoc), argued that fare hikes were necessary for upgrades to the rail network.

"The revenue from fares helps pay for investment that directly benefits passengers. Billions of pounds are now being spent to improve the railway and the results are showing through."

'Reducing burden'

He said some of the fare hikes quoted in the run up to the New Year had been exaggerated.

Passenger numbers are at record levels, making a nonsense of suggestions that people are being priced off the railway
Department for Transport

And he added that while the average on regulated fares such as season tickets was 4.8%, unregulated fares such as cheap day returns, advance purchases and long-distance open tickets would have average rises of 5.4%.

Mr Muir said the rail operators were following government directives to ensure that less of the cost of rail travel was carried by the taxpayers and more by the individual users.

"These fares rises help reduce the burden on taxpayers."

But the Conservatives insisted that rail passengers were "paying the price for the government's complete failure" to reduce fares and other costs associated with the UK's railways.

"They have been running the train franchising process like a Dutch auction, where their top priority has been how to get train operating companies to squeeze as much money as possible out of their passengers," said Theresa Villiers, the shadow transport secretary.

A Department for Transport spokesman said: "The government limits fare increases on millions of rail journeys and these regulated fares are, in real terms, no higher than they were 10 years ago.

"Passenger numbers are at record levels, making a nonsense of suggestions that people are being priced off the railway.

"This growth, along with sustained investment by the government, is helping pay for major investment in the network."

RAIL COMPANY FARE RISES

Proposed changes from 2 Jan 2008

Train company Avge regulated rise Avge unregulated rise
Arriva Trains Wales 4.8% 4.8%
c2c 4.8% 4.8%
Chiltern Railways 4.8% 5.1%
CrossCountry 4.8% 7.0%
East Midlands Trains 4.8% 7.0%
First Capital Connect 4.8% 4.8%
First Great Western 4.8% 6.1%
First ScotRail 4.8% 4.8%
First TransPennine Express 5.0% 6.4%
Gatwick Express 3.8% 5.0%
GNER (Nat Express E Coast) 4.8% 6.6%
Heathrow Express n/a 0.0%
Hull Trains n/a 0.0%
London Midland 4.8% 4.8%
Merseyrail 3.8% 5.0%
Northern Rail 4.8% 5.7%
one 4.8% 6.8%
Southeastern 6.8% 4.8%
Southern 4.8% 4.8%
South West Trains 4.8% 4.3%
Virgin Trains 4.8% 4.8%
Average 4.8% 5.4%



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