Rail users urged to fight fares rise

Rail passengers are being urged to take action in the fight for fairer train fares.

The Campaign for Better Transport (CBT), angered at the 5.8 per cent average new year fare rises that mainline season ticket holders are now paying, has asked passengers to sign petitions, write to the Government and take part in protests.

The CBT campaign, supported by Monty Python star Michael Palin, started at Charing Cross station in London yesterday.

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Supporters donned David Cameron and Nick Clegg facemasks, while one campaigner sported a mask of Transport Secretary Philip Hammond.

Campaign chief executive Stephen Joseph said: "Commuters feel like they are being pick-pocketed by the Government, expected to pay more year on year for the same poor quality service.

"Even with the promised extra investment, many passengers will see no actual improvement to their daily commute.

"Politicians need to start living in the real world and understand that people simply cannot afford to pay a fifth of their income just to do a day's work.

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"The Government pledged to create fair fares and we all expect them to keep that promise."

In a message of support yesterday, Mr Palin said: "Rail fare rises are holding travellers to ransom and increasing the likelihood that people will have to take to our already-overcrowded roads.

"Regular price hikes are no way for the Government and train companies to reward their regular customers.

"Instead of milking them, they should be thanking them for their loyalty with a better, simpler, more competitive fare structure."

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Passengers arriving at Charing Cross yesterday spoke angrily about the fare rises.

Jason Homewood, 39, an accountant, travels from Maidstone in Kent into London on services run by the Southeastern train company and already pays around 3,400 for his season ticket which he will need to renew in May at a much higher rate.

He said: "On Southeastern we pay more due to the high-speed Javelin trains. But I don't use them and the service levels in my area have got worse.

"I'm paying more for services that don't actually benefit me. The service of late has been diabolical."

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Water treatment engineer Colin Nash, 50, travels from Gravesend in Kent into London. He said yesterday: "I don't think these fare rises are justified. I'm paying enough as it is."

Mr Nash's work colleague, Sam Smith, 34, from Caterham in Surrey, said: "These increases are well above inflation. They're not right."

But Rebecca Grey, 36, an advertising director from Surbiton in Surrey, said: "I get a really good rail service. I'm quite happy with it."

To add to the gloom for passengers, late-running engineering work meant services in and out of London's Liverpool Street station were delayed in the early part of the morning rush-hour yesterday.

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Also, the Northern train company had to lay on buses to replace trains between Darlington and Middlesbrough following a signalling problem.

A spokesman for the Association of Train Operating Companies said: "While we understand people won't welcome any kind of price increases, it is important to remember that we need to continue and sustain investment in our railways which are now more popular than they have been for generations."

A Department for Transport spokesman said: "The scale of the deficit means that the Government has had to take tough decisions on future rail fares.

Revenue from fares enables the Government to continue to deliver much-needed improvements on the rail network.