Rail unions, transport campaigners and passenger groups are holding a national day of action today (Tuesday) to protest against massive hikes in rail fares and cuts to railway staff and services.
UK rail passengers pay among the highest fares in Europe for train travel. Following last year's inflation-busting fare rises, the government has announced that train operating companies (TOCs) will be able to increase rail fares by three per cent more than RPI inflation. This could mean price hikes on most rush hour travel, season tickets and off-peak fares on the majority of intercity journeys. The government has also given TOCs the power to increase some fares by even more than this, as long as the overall cost of fares stays within the cap. This could allow operators to charge passengers up to 11 per cent more for train travel from January 2013.
At the same time, the government's Rail Command Paper has set out proposals for TOCs to shed thousands of station staff, guards, catering staff and ticket offices to slash costs. The government is asking TOCs and Network Rail to implement cost-cutting proposals in Sir Roy McNulty's Rail Value for Money Study that could put up to 20,000 jobs at risk in the rail industry.
In a test case for the industry, train operator London Midland has submitted proposals for closures and reductions in operating hours of more than 80 ticket offices on its network, leaving many stations devoid of staff. Both unions and campaigners fear that the Secretary of State for Transport Justine Greening may give the green light to these proposals shortly.
In addition to causing some of the highest rail fares in Europe, privatisation has doubled the taxpayer subsidy to the rail industry. In its report Rebuilding Rail, Transport for Quality of Life shows that more than £1bn per year is now incurred in extra costs as a result of the fragmentation, transaction costs, leakages through profits and dividend payments and other on-costs resulting from rail privatisation.
Transport for Quality of Life believes that eliminating these costs through integrating rail under public ownership could equate to an across the board fare reduction of 18 per cent.
Today (Tuesday) sees the publication of the RPI inflation figure that will be used to calculate rail fare increases from January next year. Action for Rail, Bring Back British Rail, Campaign for Better Transport and Climate Rush will take part in a national day of action including demonstrations at Waterloo Station in London and leafleting and protests at over 40 stations around the country.
TUC Deputy General Secretary Frances O'Grady said: "These fare rises will add even more pressure to passengers already feeling a massive squeeze on their incomes. "The government is asking train operators to make cuts to staff on trains, stations and in ticket offices while continuing to receive public subsidy and give millions in dividends to shareholders. "Passengers are being asked to pay more to get less. We want cuts to rail fares, not rail staff."
ASLEF General Secretary Mick Whelan said: "Rail workers and the travelling public are united in this campaign. Commuters, environmentalists, businessmen, holidaymakers - even motorists! - all have a vested interest in an affordable, accessible and reliable rail service."
RMT General Secretary Bob Crow said: "Passengers will be rightly angry when they find out the full extent of the inflation-busting fare increases imposed on them by government diktat. The idea that this extra money will be invested in the railways is a sick joke, it will simply be trousered by the greedy train operators, same as it always has been since privatisation. "The case for renationalising our railways, and throwing the extortionists and rip-off merchants off the tracks, is now overwhelming. The public is sick and tired of being charged through the nose to travel on creaking, overcrowded trains while the rail companies are robbing them blind. The campaign to Bring Back British Rail is an idea whose time has come."
TSSA General Secretary Manuel Cortes said: "Justine Greening's cynical predecessor Philip Hammond famously said that rail is now a rich man's toy. She seems determined to turn that quote into firm reality during her time at the DfT."
Unite National Officer Julia Long said: "Long-suffering commuters already face some of the highest rail fares in Europe, while hard-working rail workers face the sack with thousands of jobs at risk. This government is allowing more hikes in fares but commuters will get a worse service because of staffing cuts. This is disgraceful behaviour at any time but to do this in the middle of a recession is unforgiveable. "To make matters worse the privatised rail companies have been given a series of blank cheques by government to subsidise their operations. There is another way - that is to bring rail back under public ownership to cut fares and improve the service."
- Action for Rail brings together the TUC, ASLEF, RMT, TSSA and Unite to work with passenger groups, rail campaigners and environmentalists to campaign against cuts to rail services and staffing and to promote the case for integrated, national rail under public ownership. For more information please visit www.actionforrail.org
- Stations in the Midlands that will be targeted for leafleting activity and protests as part of the national day of action confirmed so far are:
Birmingham New Street: 7.30-9.30am and 4-6pm
Birmingham Snow Hill: 7.30-9.30am and 4-6pm