Grim new year for rail travellers
Fare rises, foul weather and the usual crop of signal failures greeted rail travellers on Tuesday as they returned from the festive break.
The average rise of 6% in commuter fares was marked by a "fair fares" protest at St Pancras station in London. As passengers struggled in the dark and wet they were met by a New Orleans-style jazz band dressed as the Thomas the Tank Engine character the Fat Controller.
Other protesters from the TSSA rail union carried placards depicting Prime Minister David Cameron as the Fat Controller. Members of the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) joined in the protest, handing out leaflets inviting commuters to contact the Treasury to tell Chancellor George Osborne exactly what they thought of the fare increases, which took effect on Monday.
Some of the passengers leaving nearby King's Cross station faced disrupted journeys due to the high winds, with some East Coast London to Scotland trains starting and finishing in Newcastle upon Tyne. A series of signalling faults affected a number of other rush-hour services on other lines.
TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said: "This is just the start of three years of real pain for all passengers. The £4,000 annual season ticket is now commonplace in south east England. By 2015, the £5,000 annual season ticket will be commonplace as well, thanks to ministers insisting on (RPI) inflation plus an extra 3% on top of that in 2013 and 2014.
"Mr Cameron talks glibly about everyone sharing the pain. Well, rail passengers are taking the biggest share of the pain while ministers and MPs travel for free on the most expensive network in Europe."
London Underground and London bus fares also went up from January 2 - rising by an average of 5.6%. This was a lower-than-planned figure following a Government cash injection of £136 million. The Government, train companies and London Mayor Boris Johnson are all adamant that fare rises are necessary to sustain much-needed investment in the Tube and main line railway, which includes projects such as Crossrail and Thameslink.
The Government is known to be looking at the question of fares and there were reports on Tuesday that commuters might be spared the full horror of an RPI plus 3% rise next year. The January 2013 rise will depend on the RPI inflation figure for July 2012 which could be much lower than July's 2011 RPI, which determined this month's rise.
Campaign for Better Transport chief executive Stephen Joseph said at St Pancras on Tuesday: "We would welcome any move by the Government to make things easier for commuters." Shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle was also at the protest. She said: "Rail fares and rail costs are too high. The rail system is fractured and inefficient."
Amid the mid-winter gloom in London on Tuesday, passengers spoke of their outrage at the increases. Accountant Martin Lunan, 27, from Mile End, east London, was travelling from St Pancras station in London to Leicester. He said: "I would have been happy to pay increases if the services improved. I recognise that higher fares pay for more investment in the rail and Tube networks but I don't think we're seeing better services."