DUNCAN BARKES Rail bosses on the wrong track with fare rises

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Last year the then transport secretary, Phillip Hammond, claimed the railways were becoming a rich man’s toy. He wasn’t kidding. This week, as fares are once again increased, thousands of rail-users have forked out more than ever before for their peak-time rail tickets.

As they sit (if they are very lucky) in cramped carriages, listening to yet another announcement apologising for the delay to their service, I dare say they are wondering exactly where the extra money is going.

The average fare increase is 5.9 per cent, but some tickets have gone up by a whopping nine per cent. In these belt-tightening times it’s a bitter pill to swallow for those of us who have no alternative but to use the trains.

I spend much of my week going up and down to London on the train. The journey time in rush-hour traffic, not to mention the congestion charge, parking costs and the scandalous price of fuel, means driving is not a viable option. A coach service that meets my requirements does not exist. The only solution is to take the 7.32am from Chichester to London Victoria.

Before I continue, this is certainly not a dig at the staff on the ground. I have encountered nothing but excellent service by the frontline staff of Southern Railway.

No, my wrath is directed at those further up the hierarchy, and at the government which continues to allow train companies to fleece their customers.

Michael Roberts, chief executive of the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC), has said the increased fares are used to pay for new trains, faster services and better stations. Really? I’ve seen no evidence of better or faster anything train-related on my daily journey.

It seems to have escaped the notice of the train operators that many of us are feeling the pinch. Some businesses have cottoned on to this. The supermarkets, for example, are constantly cutting their prices. But at Choo choo HQ, no such luck. The ATOS chief also has the brass neck to say more of us are voting with our feet and wallets; that last year the network carried an extra 100 million passengers.

So, maybe the time has come for a serious debate about renationalising the rail network? After all, the only people benefiting from the current system are the operators and their shareholders.

This massive fare hike is simply daylight train robbery.