AS many go back to work today after the festive break, braving the rush hour roads and rails, it will make difficult reading to see figures showing that rail fares have increased by an average of 3.1 per cent as punctuality hits a 13-year low.

The cost of many rail season tickets rises by an eye-watering £100 today, but with services often overcrowded and running late, passengers will understandably want to know why they should pay more.

Successive governments have chosen to reduce the relative funding of the railways by taxpayers and increase the contribution of passengers. But passenger groups quite rightly say that people are being priced off the railways because wages are not increasing at the same rate as fares.

Industry body the Rail Delivery Group says profit margins for rail firms are about two per cent, with the rest going on running the railway, while the Department for Transport (DfT) says it is investing in the biggest modernisation of the network since Victorian times.

This seems a long way off though, and passengers still smarting from the catastrophic new timetable which caused chaos last summer will be understandably cynical about how effective these improvements will actually be.

The root and branch review of Britain’s railways commissioned by the DfT is a real opportunity for change, but if the cost is once again felt in the wallets of passengers, then sadly, it will be an opportunity missed to make rail travel affordable once again.