As rail fares rise and services continue to disappoint, passengers are venting their frustration at a series of protests taking place at train stations across the country.
Rail users are gathering in London, Manchester, Norwich, Sheffield and elsewhere as part of #RailCampaignDay, protesting against the 3.1 per cent fare increase that comes into force today (2 January) in England and Wales. This increase covers regulated fares, which represent around 45 per cent of all fares, with the rest able to be increased at the discretion of the train operator.
A new discount railcard has been introduced for the 26-30 age group, which will cost £30 and offer a third off all fares; child fares will also be extended to 16 and 17 year olds. However, as a result of the fare increase, the price of many season tickets could go up by more than £100, something that has been described as “another kick in the wallet” by campaign group Railfuture.
The 3.1 per cent hike is the second highest annual rise in prices since January 2013. Research by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in August 2018 found that since 2008, rail fares have increased at more than twice the speed of wages, going up 42 per cent over the decade while weekly earnings have only risen by 18 per cent. Further to this, the TUC says that UK commuters can spend up to six time more of their salary on rail fares than other European passengers.
The Office of Rail and Road (ORR), the railways watchdog, stated last year that 14 per cent of trains were late in the 12 months before August 2018, which is the highest level of delays since 2006. The Rail Delivery Group said on Twitter: ‘For every £1 paid in fares, 98p goes towards running and maintaining the railway. This means public and private capital can be invested in improvements, such as the 7,000 new carriages and hundreds more trains refurbished like new, coming in by 2021.’
However, Frances O’Grady, TUC General Secretary, said: “The most reliable thing about our railways is the cash that goes to private shareholders each year. But with the most expensive fares in Europe, that can’t be right. It’s rewarding failure and taking money away that should be invested in better services.
“It’s time to take the railways back into public hands. Every penny from every fare should go back into the railways. The number one priority should be running a world-class railway service, not private profit.”
Many passengers have been expressing their frustration with services that seem to be continually disrupted. Greens in Sheffield have been protesting at the station along with former Green Party leader and Sheffield resident Natalie Bennett.
Bennett said: “This morning at Sheffield station commuters were already all too aware of the fare rise, and that the 3.1 per cent figure is an average. Travellers from Doncaster told us their fare was up 10 per cent, and those on the train supposed to arrive at 7.08, which arrived at 7.35 (having started from Cleethorpes) were understandably particularly grumpy.
"We were focusing across Yorkshire on promoting the 'Delay Repay' scheme, saying in the North in particular we need to make the rail companies pay for the abominable service they are providing.
"One third of trains operated by Northern and Transpennine are late or cancelled. And the quality of those trains is dreadful – we're still suffering the Eighties Pacers [a type of train initially intended for only short-term use] despite a promise they would be phased out last year.
As @TUC says, 3.1% #railfares rise is "rewarding failure". I'll be joining @SheffieldGreens this morning encouraging travellers to #makethempay - use #DelayRepay when you can (all too often for #Sheffield). https://t.co/A2cKgSTOce— Natalie Bennett (@natalieben) 2 January 2019
"Having just been at the UN climate talks in Katowice, I saw first-hand just how behind our trains are to those on the continent. German trains have large, comfortable seats, with space to stretch out and toilets that don't smell. I saw Polish trains with ample cycle provision, and a Czech Pendolino with a dedicated children's space with carpeted seating and big screen for cartoons.
“More broadly [at the protest], we were focusing on the need to invest in public transport, also local buses and cycling and walking, integrated with rail, which will ensure travellers have a real option to leave their cars at home, tackling congestion, air pollution and improving everyone's lives."