THE soaring cost of rail travel has been at the centre of a day-long protest at stations across the country.

Union members and opposition MPs spent the day protesting about the biggest price hike in five years – with North East travellers being on the receiving end of the largest increases.

Rail users are facing an average 3.4 per cent increase but people in the region are being hit with a 4.6 per cent increase on Northern trains, TransPennine Express adding 4.6 per cent to fares while Virgin Trains East Coast is the national average.

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And Labour’s shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald, was stuck on a broken-down Virgin Trains East Coast train for two hours as he travelled from Stevenage to Leeds as part of the campaign.

The Middlesbrough MP said the increases were ‘unacceptable’ and passengers were turning their back on expensive public transport as he vowed to continue the campaign to renationalise railway services.

“Of course these things happen, but given this is the franchise that’s just had a £2bn bailout and we’ve had fares go up by 3.4 per cent, it doesn’t really bode well.

“I think it will stick in a lot of people’s throats that that’s the sort of service they get.”

York Central MP Rachel Maskell , Shadow Rail Minister, talked to angry commuters at Newcastle railway station. She said: "People are angry that they are having to pay so much more especially when private companies are being bailed out by the government and big bonuses are being paid to chief executives and officers and money paid out to shareholders. It is not as if this is a luxury that people are indulging in, so many have to travel for work."

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling was out of the country as the fare increases hit – on a two-day visit to Qatar, where he was meeting members of the Gulf state's government.

A decision that angered Mick Cash, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union. He said: "While millions of passengers are taking a financial hit as they battle their way back to work in the cold and the rain today they will draw their own conclusions from the Transport Secretary's decision to book himself a trip to the desert."

However, rail companies have defended the price rises.

Darren Higgins, from TransPennine Express, said: “The money generated by ticket sales goes back into improving the service to our customers.

"We are currently delivering an investment of £32 million upgrading our existing, modern trains to like new standard.”

A spokesman for Northern said: “Northern is delivering new trains, improved trains, better stations and more services to transform local rail for current and future customers in the North by 2020.”

A Department for Transport spokesman said: "We are investing in the biggest modernisation of our railways since the Victorian times to improve services for passengers."