Anger at rail price hike plans

TRAIN passenger groups accused the Government last night of taking congestion charges to the rail network after it emerged season tickets could increase by more than inflation.

By Danielle Nuttall

TRAIN passenger groups accused the Government last night of taking congestion charges to the rail network after it emerged season tickets could increase by more than inflation.

Transport Secretary Alistair Darling announced a new pricing formula was being introduced to allow train companies to raise fares by 1% above inflation on key commuter routes, rather than being limited to 1% below inflation.

The decision means fares on these regulated routes will rise by 4% in the New Year, based on the current inflation rate.

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Last night, rail passengers' representatives throughout East Anglia reacted furiously to the move, saying it could not be justified at a time of late trains and poor performance.

They were speaking as hundreds of commuters in the region experienced delays to their journeys last night due to overhead power problems on the main route into London.

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David Bigg, who represents Witham and Braintree Rail Users' Association, said: "They're turning it into a congestion charge system.

"The Government appears to have made a decision to try and use fare increases as a means of choking demand to travel to London for work.

"It's not going to happen. What will happen is trains will become more overcrowded and people will be paying more for it.

"I am furious and desperately concerned with what's going to happen in January."

Mr Bigg said commuters in Braintree had already faced an increase of 4% to season tickets this year, and fears that in January, the rise will be closer to 10%.

A reduced service in and out of London had to be brought into operation last night after a tree damaged power cables above track between Manningtree and Colchester.

Network Rail engineers had been working alongside the track clearing vegetation and tree debris when somehow a tree damaged overhead lines.

The problem led to delays of up to two hours both in and out of London as the line was reduced to a single track.

Anglia Railways said the 4pm, 6.27pm and 6.42pm services out of London had to be cancelled.

A full service was expected to be up and running at 9pm last night after repairs were carried out.

Speaking about the proposed rail fare increases, Guy Dangerfield, East England secretary of the Rail Passengers Committee, said: "Our view is that passengers will see absolutely no justification in fares increasing by more than RPI.

"At a time when performance of most routes is not yet back to the level it was three years ago, I think most passengers will think why should they pay more than they are now."

But Transport Secretary Alistair Darling, announcing the new fares in the House of Commons, said that all the rail industry, including the Rail Passengers Council, had agreed that "continuing to peg regulated fares below inflation was simply not sustainable".

Great Eastern spokesman Peter Northfield said 80% of its fares were regulated and the operator had no control over these prices.

"Until we see what the consultation says, there is nothing to say," he added.

In all, around 44% of fares are regulated, including long-distance turn-up-and-go off-peak saver tickets, which will continue to be regulated until 2006 before being replaced.

In addition, the Strategic Rail Authority, which has come up with the new formula after months of consultation, is being asked to develop a new national discount rail card.

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