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Why do people in Norfolk and Suffolk pay more for their train fares?

PUBLISHED: 08:33 22 October 2015 | UPDATED: 08:34 22 October 2015

Abellio trains and carriages at Crown point and Norwich Station. Photo : Steve Adams

Abellio trains and carriages at Crown point and Norwich Station. Photo : Steve Adams

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Railway passengers are being hit in the pocket by a postcode lottery in the fares they pay, day four of our week long investigation today reveals. Andrew Hirst reports.

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For most of us, the cost of travel is an inescapable part of life.

Whether it is for a tank of petrol or an annual train ticket – it is hard to avoid the frequent need to get from A to B.

Greater Anglia train on the Norwich to London service run by Abellio.  Photo: Bill Smith Greater Anglia train on the Norwich to London service run by Abellio. Photo: Bill Smith

While rising costs are a frequent source of complaint among travellers across the nation, we tend to imagine it affects us all pretty much equally.

But an analysis of train travel in the region suggests this is far from the case.

We have found that train fares for services in Norfolk and Suffolk can work out as more than twice the cost per mile as in other areas of the UK.

Rail user groups say the higher costs levied on local services are especially hard to swallow, as much of the money raised through their fares is indirectly redistributed to lines where ticket costs are lower – such as those in Scotland and Wales.

This is because the government takes hundreds of millions of pounds every year in franchise payments from train operating companies on profitable lines – including Abellio Greater Anglia – to support routes where there are fewer passengers.

Abellio today acknowledged that passengers would like to see more of the money raised from their fares spent on local services and says it shares that aspiration, having campaigned as part of the Great Eastern Main Line Taskforce for greater investment.

But the operator stressed that fares are mainly determined by the government and are not based purely on mileage. It said discounts were available by purchasing tickets in advance.

Looking at the price of fares across eight regional journeys and five elsewhere in the country, we have found widespread differences in the cost per mile travelled, with intercity routes, such as Norwich to London, costing far more than regional services.

Meanwhile, fares in Norfolk and Suffolk were higher than in other parts of the UK. An anytime single fare from Norwich to London, bought on the day of travel, costs £50.70 – working out as 41p per mile. The same type of ticket on the Swansea to Cardiff service costs £8, or 20p per mile.

Season tickets on the Welsh service work out as being much cheaper per mile as those from Norwich. Services between Edinburgh and Glasgow are also far cheaper than in East Anglia.

Derek Monnery, pictured, chairman of the Essex Rail Users Federation, which campaigns for the Norwich to London line, said passengers in East Anglia received a “shockingly bad deal”.

“The problem is that the line has been starved of the investment that it needs,” he added.

Abellio’s income from passengers in 2013/14 – the latest year for which figures have been published – was £625m. But its franchise agreement with the government required it to make net payments totalling £164m. Once payroll, operating costs and Network Rail’s payments were deducted, Abellio made a £3m net loss over the course of the year.

Meanwhile Arriva Trains Wales, which runs the cheaper Swansea to Cardiff service, received franchise payments from the government of £156m. Its profits for 2013/14 were £17m.

The Department for Transport, which determines how much operators pay or receive through their franchise agreements and also sets the price of all regulated fares in the UK, said the fares reflected “variations in demand and cost”.

A spokesman said: “Fares revenue helps to fund our record investment in the railways, and in East Anglia, customers are seeing the benefits of this through station improvements and upgraded trains, with many more improvements to come in the new franchise.”

Tomorrow: What next for the region’s railways?

Have your say on our train services by taking part in our online survey.

HOW RAILFARES ARE SET

Regulated fares are overseen by the government. They include most standard and saver return fares, as well as weekly season tickets.

Unregulated fares are set by train operating companies at commercial rates, and include first class and advance purchase fares.

Between 2004 and 2013, regulated fares rose by on average 1% above RPI inflation.

The government decided that regulated fares in 2014 and 2015 would rise in line with RPI inflation. It uses the July inflation rate as the benchmark for these rises, which was 2.5% for the 2015 fares changes.

Network Rail claims that for every £1 you pay, 97% goes back into the railway, with the rest on train company profits. It says 26% goes on railway investment, 25% industry staff costs and 22% maintaining track and trains.

FOOTFALL FIGURES

Recent statistics published by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) showed the number of passenger journeys on rail services in Great Britain reached 1.654 billion in 2014/15, the highest figure since records began in 2002/3 and an increase of 4.2% on the previous year.

In the area covered by Greater Anglia, Cambridge was the busiest station during 2013/14, the most recent period for which figures are available, with a footfall count of 9.8m, up 7.2% in a year.

In Norwich that figure was 4.1m (up 0.3pc) and Ipswich 3.3m (down 1.1pc).

The station with the biggest increase year on year was Oulton Broad South with 42,884 people leaving or arriving (up 53pc), followed by Spooner Row, near Wymondham, 388 (up 47pc), Berney Arms, in Broadland, 1,510 (up 43pc) and Cressing, near Braintree, 39,846 (up 33pc).

Westerfield, in Suffolk, saw the biggest decrease, 9,864 (down 25pc), followed by Lakenheath, 378 (down 14pc) and Brundall Gardens, in Broadland, 10, 534 (down 13pc).

The least used of all stations in the region was Shippea Hill, near Lakenheath, used just 12 times in a year, followed by Buckenham, in south Norfolk (80).

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