Rail fares eat up 14% of commuters' wages, say campaigners
Workers are spending up to a seventh of their income on rail fares, about six times as much as employees across Europe, a new study reveals.
Rail fares have increased twice as much as wages and inflation over the past decade, leading to fresh charges that rail privatisation in the UK has failed.
The Action for Rail campaign said workers would spend 14% of their income on a monthly season ticket in some parts of the country, including lines into London, after higher prices kicked in on Monday.
Commuters into the capital pay an average of £387 a month, compared with £61 in Paris or Rome, the study found.
Campaigners and rail workers will stage protests at more than 100 stations against high rail fares and in support of public ownership.
The average increase across Britain of 2.3% came into force on Monday morning, although the figure varies between operators, with fares on Virgin Trains East Coast services up by 4.9%.
Mick Whelan, leader of the drivers' union Aslef, said: "It is scandalous that the Government is allowing privatised train companies to make even more money for providing an ever-poorer service.
"We have the most expensive railway in Europe and the train companies, aided and abetted by this Government, are about to make it even more costly for people to travel."
The Government uses July's Retail Prices Index (RPI) measure of inflation to determine the increase in regulated fares the following January.
The figure, which was 1.9% last year, is applied to about 40% of all tickets and includes season tickets on most commuter routes and some off-peak return tickets on long-distance journeys.
Train operating companies set the prices of other tickets but are bound by competition rules.
Rail, Maritime and Transport union general secretary Mick Cash said British passengers were paying the highest fares in Europe to travel on rammed services while the private train companies were laughing all the way to the bank.
"Companies like Southern Rail and their French owners are siphoning off cash to subsidise rail services in Paris and beyond," he added.
Transport Salaried Staffs Association leader Manuel Cortes claimed it was time to "take back control of our train companies" and ensure money made from the railways was " ploughed back into cheaper fares and service upgrades".
Unite national officer Tony Murphy said passengers have been "hammered by the annual fares rip-off" and accused T ransport Secretary Chris Grayling of using the rail network as "a political football".
He added: "Every day, the case for the public ownership of the rail industry gets stronger."
A separate study by the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) found that season ticket holders travelling from Stevenage to London face the steepest fares at 27p a minute, with Bath Spa to Bristol tickets costing 25p a minute.
Commuters travelling into London from Reading, Luton, St Albans and Chelmsford all face charges of at least 20p a minute.
CBT public transport campaigner Lianna Etkind said: "Many commuters are now being charged at a similar level to a premium rate phone number for their season tickets and are left feeling equally fleeced."
According to the Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operators, about 97p in every pound paid by passengers goes back into running and improving services.
A spokesman for the organisation said: "CBT appears to be suggesting that because a journey is fast it is worse value for money - a logic not many passengers would agree with.
"At £5.15, the average price paid per journey on a season ticket - the increases to which are set by government - is actually lower in real terms than at the turn of the century.
"Money from fares is helping to support the £50 billion-plus Railway Upgrade Plan to give people new trains and faster, more reliable, more punctual journeys."
Mr Grayling said: "Thanks to action by the Government on train ticket prices, wages are growing faster than regulated fares.
"This commitment to cap regulated fares in line with inflation will save annual season ticket holders an average £425 in the five years to 2020.
"We are delivering the biggest rail modernisation programme for more than a century, providing more seats and services. We have always fairly balanced the cost of this investment between the taxpayer and the passenger."