Norfolk campaigners hit out at rail fare increases

As workers headed to train stations for the first time since the Christmas break, they would have been left with considerably less change in their pockets after buying their tickets.

The annual fares increase, which takes place each January, has seen prices rise by an average 5.8pc and considerably more on many routes.

Yesterday, as a national group launched its latest battle against high rail fares, Norfolk's transport campaigners expressed their concerns about an ever-more expensive service which, they say, fails to meet expectations.

The Campaign For Better Transport's Fair Fares Now initiative encourages rail users to sign its petition, write to the government and join protests after the latest round of increases, which kicked in on Sunday.

Backed by broadcaster Michael Palin, whose world-wide adventures have seen him travel on trains across the globe, the CBT said passengers were paying more for a sub-standard service.

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Monty Python star Mr Palin added: 'Rail fare rises are holding travellers to ransom and increasing the likelihood that people will have to take to our already overcrowded roads.

'Regular price hikes are no way for the government and train companies to reward their regular customers.'

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The CBT chose Charing Cross station in London to unveil its latest campaign yesterday, but back in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, the issues are just as frustrating for passengers.

An any-time return ticket from Norwich to London now costs 14pc more – or �93.10 instead of �82 – while from Diss the seven-day season ticket to London is now �151.50 rather than �143.90.

Passengers travelling to the capital from King's Lynn, via Cambridge, will pay an extra �2.50, or 6pc, for an any-time return, while a season ticket jumped to �117.50 from �109.

Last night, Peter Lawrence, the Norfolk-based national president of campaign group Railfuture, said he echoed the CBT's rallying call.

'This is something we support and we are actively encouraging our members to do the same,' he said. 'Let's face it, the commuter has little choice but to stump up the increased fares for their journeys. We oppose the increases. We don't think they are justified.'

Mr Lawrence warned the latest round of fare increases was just the tip of the iceberg.

In 2012, the cap on government regulated fares will rise, meaning prices can increase by 3pc above inflation, instead of the usual 1pc.

The Railfuture president said: 'In the longer term, people may perhaps look for alternative means to doing their daily journey.'

Both the train operators and the department of transport have defended the increases, insisting they were necessary to ensure investment in the industry continues.

A spokesman for the Association of Train Operating Companies said improvements had already been made and added: 'Much of what the CBT is saying simply doesn't stack up. Passengers are already benefiting from record levels of investment in our railways.

'While we understand people won't welcome any kind of price increases, it is important to remember that we need to continue and sustain investment in our railways, which are now more popular than they have been for generations.'

The Department for Transport said higher fares would enable the government to continue its improvement programme, despite facing a huge budget deficit.

But Chris Starkie, chief executive for the county's economic development partnership Shaping Norfolk's Future, said claims that price increases led to better trains did not stack up.

His organisation is co-ordinating the Norwich in Ninety campaign, which is calling for rail journey times between Norwich and London to be cut to one hour and 30 minutes.

Mr Starkie said: 'Most passengers would be prepared to put up with increased fares if there was evidence of improved services and new rolling stock. The real issue isn't fares, but the quality of the service.

'The trouble is that improvements are happening too slowly and passengers are getting fed-up. This week's over-running engineering works on the London to Norwich line was yet another example of the consistently poor service passengers are having to contend with.'

Andy Tyler, secretary of the Fen Line Users Association, which supports passengers using the King's Lynn to King's Cross line, said the group's members were always disappointed to see fare increases, but felt they would be more palatable if they could see a knock-on effect on the trains they use.

'If passengers do have to put up with price increases, the money that's generated needs to go into better services and quickly,' he said.

'The King's Lynn to Kings Cross line is, after all, very much a growing and busy commuter line.'

Denise Carlo, chairman of the Norwich and Norfolk Transport Action Group, said the latest fare hikes were yet another example of passengers being punished for choosing a greener option to cars.

The CBT said season ticket holders now had to pay out about 20pc of the average UK salary.

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