Labour has refused to rule out higher rail fares or keeping decrepit trains, in a bleak message for the North’s passengers.
Mary Creagh, the party’s transport spokeswoman, said the Government’s controversial plans for the new Northern Rail franchise may be impossible to reverse – even if it wins the general election.
Ministers claim local fares are higher in the South and have put forward proposals to wipe out those differences by hiking ticket prices on cheaper Northern routes.
Asked if Labour opposed that move, Ms Creagh said:
“That’s not a fair question without civil service advice – that’s what ministers are doing on the basis of advice.”
She added that halting that process was “not impossible”, particularly if Labour plans to devolve decision-making to local transport authorities went ahead.
The Department for Transport (DfT) has also sparked anger by planning to “modernise” the 30-year-old ‘Pacer’ trains – condemned as “cattle trucks” – despite an earlier vow to replace them.
But Ms Creagh said it would take around seven years to bring in different trains – which must be ‘cascaded’ from other lines, where electrification schemes are in doubt.
“I don’t want to upgrade the Pacers – I’m not sure you can. They’re not disability compliant.
“However, they have the enormous advantage that they exist – unlike better trains for the future that don’t exist yet.”
Ms Creagh was speaking after the launch of the Right Lines campaign, to end decades of underinvestment in rail in the region.
The crucial date looms in December, when specifications for the new franchises – potentially including fare hikes and retaining the Pacers – are published.
The North’s transport leaders have warned that hoped-for improvements will be “locked out for seven to nine years” unless their message is heard by then.
For example, an annual season ticket for the 13.5 mile journey between Darlington and Middlesbrough is £928 – but Bath to Bristol, a similar distance, costs £1,504.
But Northern transport bosses say the difference is justified because of lower incomes in the region, as well as by the older trains passengers must use.
Ms Creagh insisted Labour had a strong plan for the railways, which would end the damaging fragmentation of the privatised system.
It will create a rail authority – a “single guiding mind to plan investment and services” – bringing Network Rail together with passenger organisations.
The new body would contract routes, coordinate services and oversee stations, fares and ticketing, with a state-owned company bidding to run rail lines.
Source – Northern Echo, 17 Oct 2014
North East rail users face fare hikes of up to 100% after some off-peak fares were axed on Monday.
The price rises affects a number of evening services run by Northern Rail – with a return ticket from Hexham to Newcastle jumping from £3.55 to £7.10.
The increases, which were announced in the summer, came into effect a day after Chancellor George Osborne announced he was knocking 1% off the January 2015 national commuter fare rise for England, meaning regulated fares like season tickets will going up by 2.5% rather than the planned 3.5% next year.
Nevertheless, Northern Rail’s changes have been fiercely criticised by rail unions and campaign groups.
The RMT union is marking the rise by launching a new wave of protests against plans for the new Northern franchise and also for the new franchise for TransPennine Express, which links the region with the North West.
The union says the rises are “a kick in the teeth for the travelling public” and a “taste of what’s around the corner under the new franchises”.
And the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) said the Northern Rail rises would hit part-time and shift workers worst.
Martin Abrams, CBT public transport campaigner, said:
“This fare increase threatens to make rail travel unaffordable to tens of thousands of part-time workers.
“Despite Government promises, there are no flexible tickets for the increasing numbers who work part time or anything other than traditional nine-to-five hours.
“Their only option is to pay for individual tickets, which will now be double the price on Northern Rail’s most popular routes.”
Mick Cash, RMT acting general secretary, added:
“The axing of off-peak fares is a savage kick in the teeth for people already struggling with the burden of low pay and austerity.”
Northern said the fare changes were being made after the Department for Transport (DfT) asked the company to look at several options to help reduce subsidy as part of its current franchise agreement. It added that it had heavily publicised the fare changes.
Richard Allan, Northern Rail commercial director, said:
“The majority of customers who travel at peak times will be unaffected by these changes but we want to make sure that those who are know about what is happening and what options are available to them.”
Labour MP Mary Creagh, shadow transport secretary, said:
“This is a direct result of the Government’s West Coast franchise fiasco and commuters travelling to Leeds, Manchester, Bradford, Sheffield and Newcastle are paying the price.
“People shouldn’t have to choose between paying more or waiting until after dark to travel.”
However, a DfT spokesman said the changes would help build a “rail network that is better for the passenger and better value for the taxpayer”.
“Such restrictions are relatively common on other parts of the network, including in the Mersey travel area, and we expect only a minority of passengers to be affected.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 08 Sept 2014