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Rail commuters stage protests at stations across the UK as fares rise 3.1%

Rail fares rose by an average of 3.1% in England and Wales for commuters on the first day back to work after the Christmas break
rail
The fare price hikes come despite a series of issues across rail networks last year

Rail unions, politicians and campaigners are planning to stage protests outside stations across the country on Wednesday against rail fare increases.

Rail fares rose by an average of 3.1% in England and Wales for commuters on the first day back to work after the Christmas break, marking the highest increase since January 2013. In Scotland, fares were raised by almost 3.0%.

The price hikes come despite a series of issues across rail networks last year that caused disruptions for many commuters. One in seven trains has been delayed by at least five minutes in the past 12 months, according to the Press Association.

READ: London Waterloo travel chaos: South Western Railway hit by overrun engineering work

Campaign group Railfuture described the fare increase as “yet another kick in the wallet”.

The Labour Party has said its analysis shows the average commuter is paying £786 more for their annual season ticket since the Conservatives came into power in 2010.

Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald said the latest fare rises were an "an affront to everyone who has had to endure years of chaos on Britain's railways".

Railways lining shareholders' pockets, says TUC

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) said the fare increases were higher than the expected 2.5% rise in wages this year.

TUC research has found UK passengers pay up to five times as much on season tickets as other European travellers. A rail passenger travelling from Chelmsford to London spends 13% of their average earnings on a monthly season ticket, compared with 2% for an equivalent commute in France, the study revealed.

The TUC said private rail operators in the UK have paid out more than £1bn in dividends to shareholders in the past six years.

"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,” said TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady.

"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."

Transport secretary defends fare increase

Transport secretary Chris Grayling has defended the rail fare hike, saying the government has made a record investment in improving the network. He said the investment into the network will help passengers get the "frequent, affordable and reliable journeys they deserve".

Grayling also announced a new railcard extending child fares to 16 and 17-year-olds, which will be available before the new academic year in September.

Figures from the Office of Rail and Road show that UK railways are funded mostly by customers’ fares. Last year customer fares yielded £9.7bn while the government provided £6.4bn, excluding loans from National Rail.

This year’s fare increase was capped at the July 2018 retail price index inflation of 3.2%.

The government has said fares could be raised in line with a lower index of inflation if unions agree rail workers’ wages also rise at the same rate.  

Unite national officer Harish Patel said: "Given last year's rail timetable chaos, presided over by the hapless Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, there should be no rail fare increases for hard-pressed travellers in 2019 - fares should have been frozen. The 3.1% rise is an insult.”

The protests will be held at a number of stations across the UK on Wednesday, including London King’s Cross, Cardiff, Liverpool, Bristol and Birmingham.

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