Passengers: We're not getting value
Passengers took a poor view of rail fare increases today as annual season tickets rose by an average of 3.1%.
In the cold and dark at King's Cross station in London, travellers spoke of their anger at the annual rise and their view that rail travel offered poor value for money.
"It's a lot of money for a poor service," said teacher Simon Jones, 30, as he waited to board a train to Newcastle upon Tyne with his friend Ben James, 33.
Mr Jones was on a leisure trip today but he and Mr James normally commute to work in London from Wandsworth in south west London.
Mr Jones said: "Fares are pretty high. My salary has just gone up 1% but fares are rising around 3%. There are delays on practically every day."
Mr James said: "We're not really getting value for money. At Clapham Junction (in south London) you can hardly get on a train."
Also leaving from King's Cross today, on a trip to Edinburgh, were Derek Petrie and his wife Kim. Mr Petrie said: "I think rail travel is expensive."
Mrs Petries said: "Our son-in-law was a regular rail traveller but tends to cycle these days due to the expense."
The 3.1% rise taking effect today is for regulated fares which include season tickets. The increase on unregulated fares, typically off-peak leisure tickets, is not capped.
But a number of these fares, including some on the East Coast route, are going up by much less than 3.1%, with the overall rise in tickets - regulated and unregulated - being 2.8%.
The regulated fare increase pushes some commuters into the £5,000-a-year "club", with annual season tickets to London from Deal and Dover Priory costing £5,012.
The rise also means some annual season tickets will break the £4,000 mark, with a Basingstoke-London annual fare now costing £4,076.
The Department for Transport said the Government understood concerns rail passengers had about the costs of fares and their impact on household budgets, which was why fares had been limited to the rate of inflation.
The department added that the fares passengers paid would "continue to drive forward the biggest programme of rail modernisation ever, with £38 billion being invested over the next five years".
Shadow transport secretary Mary Creagh said the fare rise was "a continuation of David Cameron's cost-of-living crisis", while Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT transport union, said 2014 was "all set to be another year of racketeering and greed on Britain's privatised railways".
Sustainable transport organisation Sustrans said: "C ommuters will still feel the pinch this new year because salaries aren't increasing by anywhere near the level of inflation."
Consumer group Which? said the fare increases "will be a blow to people already feeling the financial squeeze", while campaign group Railfuture said: "This latest fare rise comes after 10 years of inflation-busting fare increases, meaning that our trains are easily the most expensive in Europe."
:: Here are examples of rail fare rises. The table compares the price of a 12-month season ticket bought in January 2013 with one bought from January 2 2014.
The table does not include the price paid if within-London travelcards are also purchased for Tube and bus journeys in the capital.
Where London is mentioned, this means travel to London terminal stations where travel is allowed by any route option shown by the National Rail Enquiry system journey planner where the journey can be made using only one ticket.
ROUTE JAN 2013 JAN 2014 PERCENTAGE RISE
Leeds-Wakefield £964 £992 2.9%
Basingstoke-London £3,952 £4,076 3.13%
Ramsgate-London £4,864 £5,012 3.04%
Folkestone Central -London £4,836 £4,984 3.06%
Bedford-London £4,172 £4,300 3.07%
Sevenoaks-London £3,112 £3,208 3.08%
Cheltenham Spa-London £9,184 £9,468 3.09%
Deal-London £4,864 £5,012 3.04%
Woking-London £2,896 £2,980 2.9%
West Malling-London £3,876 £3,996 3.1%
Guildford-London £3,224 £3,320 2.98%
Dover Priory-London £4,864 £5,012 3.04%
Ludlow-Hereford £1,992 £2,032 2%
Morpeth-Newcastle £1,008 £1,040 3.17%
Milton Keynes-London £4,620 £4,772 3.29%
Tunbridge Wells- London £4,132 £4,260 3.1%
Aylesbury-London £3,632 £3,732 2.75%
Hastings-London £4,304 £4,432 2.97%
Speaking at King's Cross today, Rail Minister Stephen Hammond said: "I think the public quite rightly thinks the Government should be doing more and we shall be pressing the train companies and Network Rail to provide value for money."
He was asked about a Daily Mail story which said the Government planned to pay train companies to convert first-class carriages into accommodation for all passengers.
Mr Hammond replied that in offering new franchises the Government was looking at a number of options for rail travel and was in negotiations with a number of train companies about a number of ideas.
On the claim that rail travel was far more expensive in the UK than in parts of Europe, Mr Hammond said that some of the comparisons had been made using some of the more-expensive UK routes and some of the ultra-cheap European ones.
He said that many UK comparable fares were cheaper than the Rome to Naples route in Italy.
Mr Hammond said: "We made extra money available so fares did not rise above the inflation rate. Labour have spoken of a cost-of-living crisis but it is they that caused it. We are a Government that is protecting the consumer today and investing in the future."
Speaking further about the possible first-class carriage plan, Mr Hammond said: "There are some new ideas we are looking at. This is one of them. Is it going to happen? It may. It may not."
It was put to Mr Hammond that some people's perception of the railways was one of poor value for money and constant delays.
He replied: "One of my jobs is to get that perception changed. It's no good just fining Network Rail for poor performance and that money going back to the Treasury. We want the company to improve."
Passengers at King's Cross were greeted by trade union campaigners urging rail reform. Bob Crow, general secretary of transport union the RMT, said: "Train companies are most concerned about providing dividends to shareholders.
"Wages are going up by an average of just 0.8% yet rail fares are going up by an average of more than 3%."
Mick Whelan, leader of train drivers' union Aslef, said: "Big rail projects are going ahead but it's the day-to-day jobs that are suffering.
"As for overcrowding, cattle are treated better than UK train passengers."
Michael Roberts, director general of rail industry body the Rail Delivery Group, said: "We strongly support the Government's decision to limit the average increase in season ticket prices this year.
"This, combined with the determination of train companies to continue attracting passengers, means the average increase across all fares is 2.8%, the lowest in four years. To help the Government hold down fares in future, the rail industry is working hard to get more for every pound it spends.
"This year and in coming years, passengers across the country will continue to benefit from billions of pounds spent on improving services. As well as introducing more carriages, work will proceed on major projects like the new Birmingham New Street station and thousands of smaller, less-visible schemes to improve the railway."
Sales manager Adam Jones, 35, travelling back from King's Cross to Harrogate in Yorkshire with his girlfriend Jessica Burdge, is a season ticket holder on the Harrogate-Leeds route.
He said: "My service is not as frequent as it should be and has very old carriages."
Also leaving from King's Cross today, for Edinburgh, was Thea Quillian from Atlanta, Georgia, in the US.
Accompanied by her lawyer husband Al, Mrs Quillian is a frequent visitor to the UK.
She said today: "King's Cross station is amazing. Things have improved on the UK railways but tickets seem pretty expensive. It's nicer, but pricier."
Manuel Cortes, leader of the TSSA rail union, said: "If ministers were serious about stopping annual fare rises, they would freeze what are already the most expensive fares in Europe.
"Instead they plan to raise them 1% above inflation for the next five years to fund Network Rail's budget until 2019. This temporary cap of 3.1% is all about next year's general election, not about helping passengers in the long term."
Prime Minister David Cameron told ITV Meridian: "One of the things we have done at the start of the year is to say that rail fares this year can't go up by more than inflation.
"Previous years they have been going up by inflation plus 1%, or inflation plus 3%. We have said no, only up by inflation, and we are putting the money into the railway system, and here in the South we are spending an extra £700 million to improve capacity.
"We have got these long-term plans for improving capacity and electrification in many parts of the country.
"We have got to press ahead with those but we should not ask the rail fare payer to bear an unreasonable share of the burden, and that's why these fares are being pinned back this year."