Region's rail users may face UK's highest rise in fares

RAIL fares in West Yorkshire could rise by 10 per cent next year, higher than anywhere else in the country, it is feared.

Transport chiefs are in talks with the Government to reduce the scale of the projected rise, which is worrying passengers and business leaders.

It could see 124 added to a season ticket from Huddersfield to Leeds, pushing it to 1,236.

Next year's fare rises are likely to be two per cent higher than anywhere in the country because of a funding agreement made four years ago between transport authority Metro and the Government.

The deal, costing 20m, put six two-carriage trains onto West Yorkshire busiest routes in a bid to reduce congestion.

The extra trains provide more than 800 more seats at peak times but passengers had to pick up some of the bill.

All regulated fares will rise by inflation plus three per cent next year but in West Yorkshire the hike will be inflation plus five per cent, because of that additional commitment.

A Metro spokesman said: "Metro and Northern are in discussion with the Department for Transport at the moment about ways in which this situation can be mitigated, but no decisions have been made. The discussions are at a very early stage.

"Many of the additional carriages introduced five years ago are now full to standing again."

The spokesman added: "Rather than increasing the financial burden on passengers for deteriorating conditions, Metro has said on a number of occasions that the Government should be providing the promised extra units for the network and giving the go-ahead to improvements such as the scheme for new stations at Kirkstall Forge and Apperley Bridge."

Gary Williamson, chief executive at Leeds, York and North Yorkshire Chamber, said: "The potential 10 per cent increase in fares is very concerning.

"West Yorkshire's commuters will have to pay a significantly higher percentage increase than those in other parts of the UK and it may result in more people travelling to work by car.

"This could lead to an increase in city centre congestion, particularly in Leeds and York. On a spend-per-head basis, transport investment in Yorkshire has been amongst the lowest in the UK for several years and as a result, our region's transport networks have suffered.

"In the absence of Government funding, Metro and Northern Rail have adopted an innovative approach to relieve overcrowding on key services, but they may be penalised by the Government for doing so. A further increase will place extra financial pressure on West Yorkshire's passengers and jeopardises our region's competitiveness."

The Department for Transport said: "No decision on how rail fares will change in West Yorkshire has been made and we will discuss with relevant passenger transport executives how the national policy will be reflected in their regions."