Unions protest as rail fares rise three times faster than wages over five years


According to The Guardian, campaigners at Waterloo station will hand out postcards highlighting the cost of rail privatisation and demanding a return of the railways to public ownership.

Ahead of the protest, the Action for Rail campaign, backed by the TUC and rail unions, released a study claiming that season tickets and other regulated fares have increased by 25 per cent since 2010, while average pay has gone up by 9 per cent.

Government plans to cap annual rises in regulated fares will cost taxpayers around £700m over the next five years, but bigger savings could be passed on to passengers if train services were run by the public sector, the report said. Season tickets could be 10 per cent cheaper by 2017 if routes coming up for tender were given to public sector organisations, it claimed.

The TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: “Rail fares have rocketed over the last five years, leaving many commuters seriously out of pocket. If ministers really want to help hard-pressed commuters they need to return services to the public sector. This is a fair, more sustainable option and it would allow much bigger savings to be passed on to passengers. Introducing an arbitrary cap on fares is simply passing the bill on to taxpayers.

The general secretary of Aslef, Mick Whelan, said: “Once more, those who claim they want to make work pay devalue that statement with continual, excessive and unreasonable increases in fares.”

Mick Cash, the leader of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, said: “While train companies threaten to throw guards off their services and axe station staff who are essential for safety, turning the network into a paradise for criminals and yobs, they are milking the travelling public for all they can through extortionate fares.

“Every penny of the fare rip-off is sucked out of the system in fat company profits, while crucial rail maintenance and upgrade works are shelved for lack of funds.

“That’s the price of two decades of rail privatisation and the whole rotten business needs to be swept away and replaced by a public railway under public control.”

The study’s release comes as the rail operator Network Rail is under fire. It was fined £2m by the rail regulator for inept timetabling and poor planning for upgrades that caused severe disruption at London Bridge station.

Rail minister Claire Perry told the Press Association: “We know rail fares put a strain on family finances. That’s why today, for fares we can control, we are putting an end to inflation-busting fare increases.

“Thanks to our plans, next year’s fares will see some of the lowest increases for decades. And with the economy growing steadily, for the first time in 10 years wage rises are likely to be larger than average fare increases.

“At the same time we are delivering the largest programme of investment since the Victorian era so that customers get better value for money.”

Writing in the Times on Tuesday (paywall), Perry also said that refunds if trains are delayed can be paid instantly, in cash.

Two of the Labour leadership candidates, Jeremy Corbyn and Andy Burnham, have pledged to renationalise the railways. Burnham, the former shadow health secretary, claims the UK railway system costs 40% more to run than other systems across Europe and that private investment in the railways has halved since 2010 at the same time as private profits have grown.

Corbyn, the frontrunner in the Labour leadership race, has pledged not only to renationalise the railways but also to bring energy companies back into public ownership. A YouGov poll from May 2014 suggested 60 per cent of the public were in favour of renationalising the railways, compared with 20 per cent who were against.