Rail fares to rise nearly twice inflation rate

LONDON (Reuters) - Train fares will rise by an average 6.2 percent in January, nearly twice the rate of inflation, rail operators said on Tuesday, prompting criticism from unions and passenger groups.

A worker passes First Great Western trains at Paddington Station in London November 21, 2010. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

The Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) blamed the rise on a shift in government policy which has seen passengers increasingly pick up the tab for investment in the railways, rather than taxpayers.

ATOC said the average single fare would now be 5.19 pounds.

The rise comes at a time when passengers face public spending cuts, including pay freezes and job cuts, and a 2.5 percent increase in the sales tax, VAT, to 20 percent.

Inflation is currently 3.2 percent, well above the government’s target.

“We know times are tough for many people but next year’s fare increases will ensure that Britain can continue investing in its railways,” said Michael Roberts, ATOC chief executive.

“Even with these fare increases, the money passengers spend on fares covers only half the cost of running the railways -- taxpayers make up the difference.

“The government is sticking with the previous administration’s policy to cut the taxpayers’ contribution to the overall cost of running the railways.”

He said it was important to invest in better stations, more trains and faster services because passenger demand was likely to double in the coming decades.

Mayor of London Boris Johnson said last month that fares on the capital’s public transport system would rise by an average of 6.8 percent next year.

Unions were quick to denounce the increases.

“It is simply outrageous that hard-pressed commuters are being forced to pay fare hikes of up to 10 percent when they are themselves facing pay freezes and job cuts,” said Gerry Doherty, leader of the TSSA rail union.

The Campaign for Better Transport said season tickets will cost hundreds of pounds more, and a thousand pounds more by the time of the next election, pricing people off the train.

“(It) will make it increasingly unaffordable to work in London and other major cities,” said spokeswoman Alexandra Woodsworth.

Writing by Avril Ormsby; Editing by Steve Addison