Plea for action to curb rail fares
The Government is under pressure to halt another round of above-inflation rail fare rises after passengers braced themselves for average new year increases of 4.1%.
Unions and campaign groups staged a series of protests amid warnings of fresh "misery" for rail users but increased profits for train operators and shareholders.
Labour warned that some fares could leap by 9.1%, saying it would ban train companies from hiking prices beyond a strict 1%-above-inflation limit.
The Government said running the railways was an "expensive business", adding that taxpayers contributed huge amounts, so passengers had to make contributions.
But the prospect of another "shocking" rise was compared with wage increases, which have failed to keep pace with inflation, while ministers were told that getting to work is now the biggest single monthly outgoing for many commuters - more than food or housing.
RPI inflation rose by 3.1% in the year to July, down from 3.3% last month, but regulated fares are set to rise by an extra 1% in England when the new prices are announced from January.
Frances O'Grady, general secretary of the TUC, which helped organise today's protests at almost 50 stations, said: "Despite the small fall in inflation, most rail season tickets will still go up by a wage-busting 4.1% next year.
"This is good news for rail operators, who'll use increased fares to line the pockets of shareholders, but bad news for hard-pressed commuters who are having to hand over even more of their pay packets for poor-quality services."
The 4.1% rise on regulated fares, which include season tickets, is an average figure, with each train company able to put fares up above this figure on some routes as long as all its regulated fares average 4.1%. If a 4.1% fare rise is applied, for example, to some Kent commuter routes, it will mean the price of a 12-month season ticket from Deal, from Canterbury and from Ramsgate to London will rise above £5,000 from January.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said nobody liked paying more for fares, but the Government is investing heavily in the railways. "Running the railways is a very expensive business. The taxpayer overall is contributing a lot and I am afraid that the passenger has to make his contribution. He does it as a taxpayer and as a passenger as well."