RAIL commuters across Yorkshire could see the cost of their journey to work rise again as the Government considers plans for new charges at stations in the region.
Proposals to make rail users pay at 18 stations where parking is currently free have emerged as the Government negotiates an extension to the franchise held by Northern Rail, the company which runs local services across the North.
The Government pays millions of pounds in subsidies to Northern Rail and Ministers have been looking for ways to offset the cost. Northern Rail last night stressed the proposals had emerged at the behest of the Government.
A letter seen by the Yorkshire Post from councillor James Lewis, chairman of West Yorkshire transport body Metro, urges Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin to shelve the idea.
It warns Mr McLoughlin that “the adverse passenger impacts and impact on local highways and neighbourhoods (particularly of the proposed car park charges) have not been properly addressed in the proposals.”
There are concerns that if the charges go ahead, cash-strapped councils in Yorkshire will have to spend significant amounts of money introducing and policing parking permit schemes on residential streets near to stations as rail passengers try to dodge paying.
It is understood there is scepticism locally over whether the move would raise significant amounts of money.
Councillors in the region also want any talk of new parking charges to be part of a much wider discussion over long term investment in the Yorkshire transport network.
Northern councils have long campaigned for a greater say in how rail services are operated and these proposals are seen as further evidence of why devolution from Whitehall is needed.
The move would also prove highly unpopular with passengers coming in the wake of the latest annual rise in fares last month.
David Sidebottom, acting chief executive of consumer watchdog Passenger Focus, said: “Passengers who use station car parks where charges will be introduced will feel aggrieved at having to fork out even more money to travel by train.”
The Department for Transport (Dft) said discussions were ongoing with Northern Rail about the terms of its contract.
A DfT spokesman said: “As part of this process we are exploring a number of efficiency options to unlock investment and reduce the operating costs of running the railways.
“A decision will be made in due course.”
Northern Rail’s franchise to operate local services across the North was due to come to an end in April.
However, the controversy surrounding the awarding of rights to run West Coast Main Line services 18 months ago led to a wholesale review of the Government’s rail franchising process.
Ministers are now negotiating short term extensions with a number of operators, including Northern Rail, to allow time for a new franchising process to be introduced.
A Northern Rail spokeswoman said: “We continue to have constructive discussions with the Department for Transport and Rail North on what they want to happen in the new franchise agreement for Northern between April 2014 and February 2016.
“As part of those discussions we have been asked to provide proposals that would reduce the cost to the taxpayer of running the railway as well as providing better facilities and information for Northern customers.
“The details of the new franchise agreement are still being finalised and we cannot comment further until it is signed.”
Full list of stations affected:
Steeton and Silsden
Burley in Wharfedale
Sandal and Agbrigg