Rail passengers suffer biggest fares rise in 11 years despite poor performance

Train passengers will be hit by the largest hike in fares for more than a decade on Sunday, despite record poor reliability.

Fares in England and Wales will jump by up to 5.9% on average, adding hundreds of pounds to the cost of many annual season tickets.

Rail minister Huw Merriman said the increase is “well below inflation and delayed”, but Labour described it as “savage” and public transport groups claimed passengers are not getting value for money.

PA news agency analysis of Office of Rail and Road (ORR) data found the annual fares rise is the largest since a 6.1% jump across Britain in 2012.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

Examples of potential increases in ticket prices based on a 5.9% rise include:

– Annual season ticket from Woking to London: Up £216 from £3,664 to £3,880.

– Off-peak return from Birmingham to Cardiff: Up £3.97 from £67.30 to £71.27.

– Anytime day single from Liverpool to Leeds: Up £2.35 from £39.90 to £42.25.

Separate ORR figures show the equivalent of one in 25 train services were cancelled in the year to February 4, representing the worst reliability in records dating back to 2014.

Britain’s railways have been disrupted by a series of issues such as staff shortages and sickness, industrial action, severe weather and infrastructure failures.

Mr Merriman said: “I understand it has been a difficult year and people are feeling the pinch which is why – through the biggest ever Government intervention – we capped the rise well below inflation and delayed it coming into force.”

A spokesman for the Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operators, said: “The Government’s decision to hold fares down below current inflation is understandable.

“It is important that fares are set at a level that is appropriate for both the industry and its customers.”

Annual increases in fares were traditionally implemented on the first working day of each year, but they have been postponed by several months since 2021.

Shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh said: “This savage fare hike will be a sick joke for millions reliant on the Conservative’s broken rail system.

“People already facing soaring taxes and bills will now be clobbered with an eye-watering rise in the cost of the daily commute.”

Latest research by watchdog Transport Focus shows fewer than half of passengers think they get good value for their fares.

Chief executive Anthony Smith said: “After months of unreliable services and strike disruption, it’s clear that too many passengers are not getting a value for money service.

“Capping fares below inflation and the delay until March have gone some way to help ease the pain, but the need for more fundamental reform of fares and ticketing must not be forgotten.”

Norman Baker, director of external affairs at lobby group Campaign for Better Transport and former Lib Dem transport minister, said: “Pressing ahead with the largest fare rise in a decade will do nothing to encourage more people to take the train or help people struggling to meet rising travel costs.

“This rise is especially frustrating given the cuts to fuel duty and air passenger duty.”

The cap on increases in regulated rail fares in England, Scotland and Wales is set by the Westminster, Scottish and Welsh Governments respectively.

Shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh
Shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh said ‘this savage fare hike will be a sick joke for millions’ (Brian Lawless/PA)

These include season tickets on commuter journeys, some off-peak return tickets on long-distance journeys and flexible tickets for travel around major cities.

Regulated fare rises have previously been linked to the Retail Price Index measure of inflation for the previous July, which in 2022 was 12.3%.

But the Westminster and Welsh Governments aligned this year’s rises with July’s average earnings growth, which was 5.9%.

The Welsh Government said in a statement last week that “given the disappointing budget settlement from the UK Government we cannot afford to deliver a lower increase”.

Train operators set unregulated fares, although their decisions are heavily influenced by governments due to contracts introduced because of the virus crisis.

These fares are also expected to increase by up to 5.9% in England and Wales from Sunday.

The Scottish Government has frozen ScotRail fares until the end of March, but no decision has been announced about what will happen beyond then.

Translink, Northern Ireland’s state-owned bus and train operator, will hike fares by an average of 7% from Monday.

This is the first rise in four years and comes after Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said in November that steps would need to be taken to improve Translink’s sustainability.