Under-investment in the region’s rail services must be righted to rebalance the North’s economy, but not at a cost of ticket price rises, the Shadow Transport Secretary has warned.
Passengers have seen season ticket costs rise by more than third since 2010, Labour claims, this week facing an increase of up to £100 as average fares were raised 3.1 per cent.
This is a contradictory response to a “year of misery” for passengers in the North, Andy McDonald warned on a visit to Leeds, meeting commuters as they faced their first day of new, higher prices yesterday.
“Passengers are quite right to be very angry,” he said. “They have been promised improved services but sadly that has not materialised. They are still seeing overcrowding, delays and cancelled trains. And of course, after the mayhem that was unleashed in May over timetabling, they would be quite right to be furious.
“Mr Grayling needs to listen and respond in a more appropriate way but that isn’t happening.”
One in seven trains was delayed by at least five minutes in the past 12 months as a series of major issues plagued the railway in its worst year for performance since 2005.
Extreme weather, errors in the launch of new timetables, strikes and signalling failures were among the causes cited.
Labour has pledged to return the railways to public ownership and called for prices to be frozen on the worst performing routes.
A sense of anger among rail passengers is indicative of a “fragmented” rail system, added Mr McDonald, saying that the only way to resolve this would be to bring train and track together.
And despite repeated reports of under-investment in northern services and a disparity in spending when compared to London and the South East, the Secretary of State is still in denial over the impact, he warned.
“If we are truly wanting to rebalance our economy, we’ve got to put that under-investment right,” he said. “Chris Grayling tells us there are significant moneys coming in to upgrades and enhancements in the North of England, but quite frankly the sort of sums he’s talking about are wholly insufficient to bring about the transformational change that’s needed.”
There were protests at stations in Yorkshire yesterday as the increases came into effect, TUC regional secretary Bill Adams questioning the rationale behind “unbelievable” price rises, while Transport Secretary Chris Grayling blamed trade unions for the price hikes.
“The reality is the fare increases are higher than they should be because the unions demand – with threats of national strikes, but they don’t get them – higher pay rises than anybody else,” he said. “Typical pay rises are more than three per cent and that’s what drives the increases. These are the same unions that fund the Labour Party.”
Mr Grayling has claimed the Government’s “record investment” in the rail network will help passengers get the “frequent, affordable and reliable journeys they deserve”.
The rail industry argues the “vast majority” of revenue from fares covers day-to-day running costs, insisting money from fares is being used to “build the better railway customers want”.