Rail fare rise protests to be held at Newcastle station as part of nationwide demonstrations (From The Northern Echo)
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Rail fare rise protests to be held at Newcastle station as part of nationwide demonstrations
9:25am Tuesday 13th August 2013 in News
PROTESTS against rail fare rises will be held across the country today amid warnings that the cost of train travel is set to be 40% higher from the new year than six years ago.
Next January's rise will be the sixth time in seven years that rail fares have outstripped wages, said campaigners.
Between 2008 and next January rail fares will have jumped by 40%, compared with a 15% increase in average earnings, it was claimed.
The TUC and the Action for Rail campaign group will stage a series of demonstrations at almost 50 stations to mark the publication of the latest RPI inflation figure, which is used to calculate next year's rail fare rise.
Analysts predict that RPI will be 3.3% today, which would see regulated rail fares increase by 4.3% in January, well above average wage rises.
The TUC warned that some season tickets could rise by 9%, against forecasts of a 2.4% increase in average earnings next year.
The union organisation said rail privatisation was costing taxpayers £1.2 billion a year despite "minimal" investment in trains and stations.
TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "Every year hard-pressed rail commuters have to hand over an ever greater share of their earnings just to get to and from work.
"Wage-busting fare rises are not even going on much needed service improvements either. Instead, passenger and public subsidies are lining the pockets of the shareholders of private rail companies.
"You only have to look at the nationalised East Coast mainline to see that public ownership of the railways not only works, it provides a better deal for passengers and taxpayers alike.
"Ministers must put evidence before ideology, halt the privatisation of the East Coast mainline and look at bringing our railways back into public ownership."
Unite national officer Julia Long said: "The current system of privately owned operators is haemorrhaging enough cash each year to cut fares by at least 18%, without reducing staff or services. Yet every year we see fares soar way beyond the inflation rate."
Protests will be held at stations including Birmingham New Street, Bristol Temple Meads, Glasgow Central, Manchester Piccadilly, Newcastle Central and London's Paddington and Victoria.
Campaign for Better Transport published research showing that rail fares are increasing nearly twice as fast as incomes, outstripping increases in wages by nearly 14% since 2007.
Chief executive Stephen Joseph said: "Getting to work is now the biggest single monthly outgoing for many commuters - more than food, more than housing.
"One of the surest ways of stamping on any green shoots of recovery is to price people off the trains and out of the jobs market.
"For the sake of the economy, we should end above-inflation fare increases now and start planning for fare reductions."
Michael Roberts, chief executive of the Association of Train Operating Companies, said: "Government determines how the average season ticket price rise is set each year. Since 2004, it has been Government policy to allow regulated fares to rise above inflation in order to support investment in more trains, better stations and faster services.
"This is helping to drive passenger satisfaction to near-record levels while seeking to reduce taxpayers' contribution towards the cost of running the railways.
"In order to help limit future fare rises, the rail industry is working with the Government to find ways of providing services even more efficiently, building on the progress that has already been made."
A Department for Transport spokesman said: "The Government is investing record amounts into our railways, which will help deliver economic growth, improve performance and significantly boost passenger capacity.
"However, we also recognise it is tough for passengers. That is why we are already limiting these rises by capping the average regulated fares increase at 1% in real terms and will be announcing further measures to ensure greater fairness on fares for passengers later this year."
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said nobody liked paying more for fares but the Government was investing heavily in the railways.
Speaking from Nottingham station, where £130 million-worth of work is going on, Mr McLoughlin told BBC1's Breakfast programme that taxpayers contributed huge amounts to the running of the railways and passengers had to make contributions, both as rail travellers and as taxpayers.
He said: "Nobody likes to see rail fares go up. I don't like to see it and passengers don't like to see it. We are massively investing in the railways, with £130 million being spent here at Nottingham, £800 million at Reading and £600 million at Birmingham.
"Running the railways is a very expensive business. The taxpayer overall is contributing a lot and I am afraid that the passenger has to make his contribution. He does it as a taxpayer and as a passenger as well."
Asked if the above-inflation rises were discouraging rail travel, Mr McLoughlin replied that there had been a vast increase in the number of people using the trains.
On Labour's criticism of the rail-fare policy, he said: "The Labour Party during their time in office were increasing the fares at the same level. "
Mr McLoughlin said he hoped above-inflation rises would end by 2015 in line with the Office of Budget Responsibility's estimates.
He said around £8 billion was raised by ticket sales and £4 billion by taxpayers for the UK's rail services.
He also told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme there was a "huge renaissance" on the railways, with annual passenger journey numbers increasing from 750 million to 1.5 billion.
The Transport Secretary was asked if Network Rail could improve services without the need for increasing bonuses for its bosses.
He replied: "Bonuses is one way which is a reward for delivering those services and has been seen across the front... I think there are certain people in the BBC who get bonuses too."
Mr McLoughlin added: "There's a bit more than just doing their job. We are talking about some very, very complicated engineering works that are going on."
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