Rail commute in Europe ‘nearly 10 times cheaper’

RAIL commuters in Britain pay much more for season tickets than their European counterparts, with Yorkshire’s passengers paying most, according to statistics released to coincide with annual fare rises.

The cost of some annual tickets on the region’s busiest routes will rise by more than eight per cent next week, while season ticket fares in other areas of the country will rise by about six per cent.

But the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) yesterday said commuters would be furious to learn that comparable tickets for similar routes on the continent can cost a fraction of those bought in the UK.

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The CBT said its figures showed some hard-pressed British passengers are already paying almost 10 times more for their season tickets than those in Europe, rubbing salt into the wounds of those facing hikes.

The price of a 2011 season ticket from Woking in Surrey to London, including Tube travel, is £3,268. Yet a similar 22-mile journey from Velletri to Rome costs Italian season ticket holders £336.17.

Other journeys of about 21-24 miles in other European countries reveal that rail travellers on the continent are paying far less for their trains.

According to the CBT figures, an annual season ticket for the 24-mile journey from Ballancourt-sur-Essonne to Paris costs £924.66.

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The cost of a season ticket on the 21-mile Strausberg to Berlin route is £705.85, while the 22-mile Collado-Villalba to Madrid journey costs Spanish season ticket holders £653.74.

In Yorkshire, the 20-mile journey from Leeds to Huddersfield will cost season ticket holders £1,192 after next week’s rise, while the 25-mile journey cost from York to Leeds will rocket to £1,884.

CBT’s public transport campaigner Sophie Allain said: “We knew we had some of the most expensive rail fares in Europe, if not the world, but even we were shocked by how much more the UK ticket was in comparison to our European counterparts.

“When the cost of season tickets is so much higher than other European capitals, the Government’s fare rises are starting to affect the UK’s competitiveness.”

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From January 2, UK regulated fares, which include season tickets, are rising by an average of six per cent, with the overall average rise for all tickets being 5.9 per cent.

The Government had planned to increase the annual price rise formula by two per cent in January 2012, which would have meant regulated fares rising eight per cent.

Chancellor George Osborne announced last month that the rise would be limited to six per cent, but the Government still plans annual rises of RPI inflation plus three per cent for January 2013 and January 2014.

With UK train companies allowed to put up regulated fares by more than six per cent as long as the average figure is not exceeded, some season tickets are going up by about seven per cent next week.

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A different annual price formula applies for Northern Trains’ West Yorkshire Metro services, so some season tickets are rising by more than eight per cent.

Ray Wilkes, the co-ordinator of the West Yorkshire branch of the CBT said the fare rises would “hit people hard” and the new figures would be another blow for them.

But he added: “It is complicated because in Europe people pay more tax to subsidise rail travel, and I’m not sure the British people would be happy to do that.

“Over the years the Government has spent a lot of money on keeping fares down and not invested in the railways. If they had spent money on new trains and more carriages perhaps people would be less annoyed by fare rises.

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“Essentially too much money is wasted by Network Rail and the Department for Transport on bureaucracy and passengers are paying the price.”

A spokesman for the Association of Train Operating Companies dismissed the CBT’s findings as “flimsy” and added: “Next year, the average commuter will pay less than six pounds a day, to travel to work and home by train.

“In many other countries, the state chooses to subsidise the railways more heavily than in Britain.

“In this country, the long-standing government approach to sustain investment in the railways is to cut the contribution from taxpayers and increase the share paid by passengers.”