Trade unions and the all too often used threat of strike action is a major factor in the above-inflation ticket price hike which has come into force today, according to the transport secretary.
Chris Grayling was speaking as demonstrations were held at more than 20 stations across the UK as the 3.1% rise in rail ticket prices came into effect from Wednesday morning (1 January).
Surges in prices come after a year which saw mass disruption in 2018 with the price of some annual season tickets go up by more than £100. It’s the biggest increase seen in ticket fares within England and Wales since January 2013.
Last year saw a “summer of chaos” following timetable changes in May, in which train operators Northern and Govia Thameslink were lambasted after hundreds of services were cancelled or delayed. An Office of Rail and Road report later in the year criticised the rail industry of "complacency".
But while speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Grayling took the opportunity to point the finger at trade unions, however he did apologise for “tough moments” on the rail network last year but said new trains being introduced in London, Birmingham and the north of England showed the impact of "massive investment".
He added: “The reality is the fare increases are higher than they should be because the unions demand – with threats of national strikes, but they don’t get them – higher pay rises than anybody else. Typical pay rises are more than 3% and that’s what drives the increases. These are the same unions that fund that Labour party.”
But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has once again called to bring railways back under public ownership as train companies continue to “make huge profits and pay hundreds of millions to shareholders”.
“Today the latest Tory rail fares increase kicks in,” he added. “This time by more than 3% - meaning they've now risen by 36% since 2010. It's disgraceful. We're campaigning to bring our railways into public ownership so they work for the many, not the few.”
North of the border in Scotland has seen rises on average of 2.8% in ticket fares but ScotRail - the organisation responsible for keeping trains running on the network - defended the hike in prices ans said it was investing "millions to build the best railway Scotland has ever had".
A Transport Scotland spokesman said: "While any fare increase is unwelcome, calls for a fares freeze underestimate the impact of these on the public purse. The average fares increases in Scotland at 2.8% are lower than England and Wales which is 3.1%. Two-thirds of the cost of running the railway is already met through Scottish government subsidy, with the remainder through rail passenger revenues. Any change to rail fares could therefore have a significant impact on the taxpayer."
However the company has conceded that its performance had “not been good enough recently” and the issue of a remedial notice demonstrates “ministers have made clear the need for robust improvement”.