Southern rail fares ‘should at least be frozen if not reduced’

Maria Caulfield MP
Maria Caulfield MP

Southern rail fares should at least be frozen due to the ‘poor service’ recently experienced by passengers, Lewes MP has said.

Services run by Govia Thameslink Railway have experienced problems since a massive shake-up of train timetables in May.

Both operator GTR and Network Rail apologised, with the late sign-off of the changes blamed for cancellations and disruption.

A 3.5 per cent increase in regulated rail fares is expected to be confirmed this week when the Office for National Statistics reveals the July inflation rate – the figure used to set ticket price rises for the following January.

Analysis by the RMT union shows rail fares have increased at twice the rate of wages since 2010.

Maria Caulfield, Conservative MP for Lewes, said: “I’m extremely concerned about any potential increase in fares. Whilst I recognise £300 million is going in to improve our rail line locally, on a day to day basis, passengers across the constituency have no reliable train service.

“From short formation trains, station skipping, cancellations and delays, passengers have had a poor service since the timetable changes in May, with no end in sight.

“The fares should at least be frozen if not reduced as passengers are not getting what they pay for and I have joined my other Conservative MPs in speaking out against this fare rise.”

The Department for Transport (DfT) uses the Retail Prices Index (RPI) inflation measure each July to determine the annual increase in regulated train fares, including season tickets on most commuter routes.

A DfT spokesman said: “Any fare increase is unwelcome, but it is not fair to ask people who do not use trains to pay more for those who do.

“Taxpayers already subsidise the network by more than £4 billion a year – meaning that 38 per cent of our transport budget is spent on the two per cent of journeys that the railway accounts for.”

Both the RMT and train drivers’ union ASLEF criticised the likely fare rises.

Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT, said: “Despite all the timetable chaos and service and staff cuts our rail fares are up to 5 times more than fares in Europe and are rising twice as fast as wages. That is nothing short of a scandal.

“Even if fares were pegged at the more modest CPI [Consumer Price Index] these latest increases would still massively outstrip wages leaving the British passenger to pay through the nose to travel on rammed out and unreliable services.”

Meanwhile Mick Whelan, general secretary of ASLEF, singled out transport secretary Chris Grayling for criticism.

He said: “Mr Grayling wants passengers to pay more for a poorer service. That’s not a great offer, is it? For passengers – or voters at the next election.

“Commuters complain about persistent delays and cancellations, the consumer group Which? says the privatised train operators are one of this country’s least-trusted groups – beaten to bottom place only by second-hand car dealers – wages aren’t keeping up with inflation and yet Mr Grayling is pushing up prices yet again. What a way to run the railway.”