Rail prices rises are the wrong response to a “year of misery” for passengers, the Shadow Transport Minister has warned, visiting Leeds as new rail fares came into effect.
Passengers have seen season ticket costs rise by more than third since 2010, Labour claims, today facing an increase of up to £100 as average fares were raised 3.1 per cent.
“Passengers are quite right to be very angry,” said Andy McDonald MP. “They have been promised improved services but sadly that has not materialised. They are still seeing overcrowding, delays and cancelled trains. And of course, after the mayhem that was unleashed in May over time-tabling, they would be quite right to be furious. Mr Grayling needs to listen and respond in a more appropriate way but that isn’t happening.”
One in seven trains was delayed by at least five minutes in the past 12 months, it emerged, as a series of major issues plagued the railway in its worse year for performance since 2005.
Extreme weather, errors in the launch of new timetables, strikes and signalling failures were among the causes cited.
Labour has pledged to return the railways to public ownership and called for prices to be frozen on the worst performing routes.
A sense of anger among rail passengers is indicative of a “fragmented” rail system, added Mr McDonald, saying that the only way to resolve this would be to bring train and track together.
And despite repeated reports of under-investment in northern services, and a disparity in spending when compared to London and the South East, Ministers are still in denial, he warned, over the impact.
“If we are truly wanting to rebalance our economy, we’ve got to put that under-investment right,” he said. “Chris Grayling tells us there are significant moneys coming in to upgrades and enhancements in the North of England, but quite frankly the sort of sums he’s talking about are wholly insufficient to bring about the transformational change that’s needed.”
Mr Grayling has claimed the Government’s “record investment” in the rail network will help passengers get the “frequent, affordable and reliable journeys they deserve”.
The rail industry argues the “vast majority” of revenue from fares covers day-to-day running costs, insisting money from fares is being used to “build the better railway customers want”.
Rail travellers have spoken of their frustration at having to ‘pay more for less’.
Lyndsay Hill, 42, of Rothwell, had tried to book a ticket to Scarborough from her nearest station Woodlesford. It was more than £20 cheaper to travel from Leeds City Station, so she paid extra to travel by taxi one stop down the line.
“Train services have really gone downhill in the last year,” said husband Darren, 47, a regular commuter on the rail network. “They are just too packed, you can’t get on, or you’re queuing outside.
“We’re paying more money for a worse services.”
Judith Rossiter, 63, from South Wales, visiting family in Leeds had travelled by train via York. She felt enormous frustration, she said, at rising rail fares.
“It seems that rail companies just don’t care,” she said. “It just seems so cheeky to put the prices up. It’s a terrible service.
“I understand that trains have got to pay for themselves, but we just don’t get the service.”
Matt Oliver, aged 50 from Kent, was visiting Leeds for work.
“It seems a bit unfair to raise the fares, obviously improvements need to be done in places,” he added.
Caroline Hewson, 39 and from Harrogate, shopping with son Ben, aged 10, said they use family rail tickets, mainly in the holidays, and haven’t seen too great an impact.
“It doesn’t seem to affect us,” she said. “But we do often find services very busy, which isn’t great with a young family.”
There were protests at stations as fares came into effect, TUC regional secretary Bill Adams questioning the rational behind “unbelievable” rises, while Transport Secretary Chris Grayling blamed trade unions for the hike.
“The reality is the fare increases are higher than they should be because the unions demand - with threats of national strikes, but they don’t get them - higher pay rises than anybody else,” Mr Grayling said. “Typical pay rises are more than 3 per cent and that’s what drives the increases. These are the same unions that fund the Labour Party.”