Happy new year from the rail companies: Your fare’s gone up and your train’s cancelled

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Rail fare rises today have been accompanied by all-too-familiar failings on tracks and trains.

As season ticket-holders came to terms with increases of up to 2.5%, passengers on a main London to Scotland route endured delays right through the rush hour.

The hold-ups were caused by overhead wire problems at Nuneaton in the West Midlands.

London Midland trains between London and Crewe were delayed as were Virgin’s Trent Valley services.

Services on Merseyrail were disrupted during the rush hour, while a Northern Rail Selby to Huddersfield service had to start from Leeds due to a train fault.

Passengers at Menston station in West Yorkshire were greeted by handwritten notices warning that staff would be “too busy” to issue new season tickets on Monday.

In East Anglia, where passengers have been plagued for weeks by delays, there were more problems for early risers. Greater Anglia’s 6.40am Braintree to London service was disrupted because the train was late leaving the depot, while the 6.24am Norwich to London service was cancelled.

Meanwhile, in Wales, flooding meant buses had to replace trains between Blaenau Ffestiniog and Llandudno Junction.

The January 2015 increase involves rises of up to 2.5% for regulated fares, which include season tickets, with fares overall going up by an average of 2.2%.

The rises follow weeks of disruption to rush-hour services with problems for passengers compounded by over-running festive engineering work.

The over-run last Saturday led to chaotic scenes, with King’s Cross and Paddington stations in London having to be closed and also resulted, eventually, in Network Rail chief executive Mark Carne announcing he would not be taking his annual performance-related bonus.

Today’s increase sees regulated fares, which include season tickets, going up by up to 2.5%, while the average rise for all fares is 2.2%.

The rail industry has said that this is the lowest annual rise for five years. But campaign groups and trade unions have pointed out that the annual rises in fares have far outstripped the rises in wages and that Britons pay some of the highest rail fares in Europe.

Those commuting to London from Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire, for example, are from today having to pay 2.43% more, with their 2015 ticket going up to £4,888.

According to the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT), the cost of a Milton Keynes season ticket has risen 23.5%, or £930, since January 2010 and is one of a number of fares that have increased around four times more than average wages over this five-year period.

The CBT also highlighted the cost of a Newcastle to Middlesbrough season ticket, which will be £2,324 from today and which has risen 26.3% since January 2010.

Trade unions are at King’s Cross station today to hand to commuters special tickets showing how rail fares have risen.

According to TUC figures, UK commuters spend more than twice as much of their salary on rail fares than some European passengers.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “This year’s fare hike will hit passengers particularly hard because wages are rising so slowly.

“Rail fares are now consuming a huge proportion of people’s wages, leaving precious little for other bread and butter expenses. On average passengers are now paying £600 more for a season ticket and yet seeing no change in their pay packets.”

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “The scandal of Britain’s great rail fares rip off continues with today’s hike far outstripping average pay increases, and it will once again hit those at the sharp end of the austerity clampdown the hardest.”

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, who will join passengers at Brighton station on Monday to call for Britain’s railways to be returned to public hands, said services over the Christmas period were typical of “a system that has flatly failed”.

She added: “Rail privatisation has become characterised by poor services, cramped trains and extortionate fares. It’s ripping off passengers, harming the economy and failing the environment.”

The rally - one of dozens nationwide - follows today’s rail fare hike and precedes the Second Reading of her Railways Bill, due in Parliament next Friday.

The Brighton Pavilion MP’s Bill calls for Britain’s rail franchises to be brought back into public ownership as they either fail or their contracts expire.

She added: “The UK has some of the highest fares in Europe, and they continue to rocket - vastly out of line with wage rises. Many of my constituents are struggling with the constant price hikes and it’s why, on Monday morning, I’m joining them to call for an end to a railway designed for private profiteering, at the expense of quality, value and fairness.”

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “We are investing in the biggest rail modernisation since the Victorian era and fares have a crucial role to play in funding these improvements. This is because building better infrastructure helps create jobs, building a stronger economy for us all.

“We recognise passengers’ concerns about the cost of rail fares. This is why we have frozen them for the second year in a row. We are protecting passengers even further by stopping operating companies from increasing individual fares by up to 2% more.”

Michael Roberts, director general of the Rail Delivery Group representing rail operators and Network Rail, said: “At 2.2%, the average increase in fares in 2015 is the lowest for five years. We understand no one likes to pay more, especially to go to work. For every £1 spent on fares, 97p goes on track, train, staff and other costs while 3p goes in profits earned by train companies for running services on Europe’s fastest growing railway.

“We are very sorry that many passengers experienced a service well short of what they deserved last weekend. To ensure we build a better railway, Network Rail is spending £38 billion over five years alongside commitments made by train companies. This will deliver more seats, better stations and improved journeys for passengers.”

Shadow transport secretary Michael Dugher said: “David Cameron is presiding over a rip-off railway in Britain. He has failed to stand up for working people struggling with the cost-of-living crisis and has allowed the train companies to hit passengers with massive fare rises of over 20% since 2010.

“Some season tickets have now risen by over 30% under this Government, forcing people to pay thousands of pounds more to commute to work on increasingly overcrowded trains.”

He went on: “Out-of-touch ministers talk about ‘fair fares for comfortable commuting’, but this is a world away from the reality for millions of hard-up commuters.

“Labour would deliver a better deal for passengers and taxpayers by reforming the railways, simplifying the ticketing system and enforcing a strict cap on fares on every route.”

Mr Dugher said it was train operating companies which had to take a greater burden, not passengers or taxpayers.

He said: “In my view, if someone has to get their hand in their pocket, it’s got to be the operating companies - they are making decent profits still.”

Mr Dugher said the industry’s figure of 3% profits was “disputed” and added: “The Office of Rail Regulation have cast doubt on those figures and have talked about the serious inefficiencies that still lie at the heart of the industry.

“It’s one of the reasons we said let’s review the whole franchising process.”

Mr McLoughlin said the increase in rail fares was “regrettable”.

He said: “I accept 2.5% is more than a passenger wants to pay. Any increase is to be regrettable.

“But it is the fact we’re investing record amounts in to the industry so we can get better train services and a better rail service for the United Kingdom.”