Suffolk/Ipswich: MP Ben Gummer to lead the calls for no 3.5% rail fare increases
06:00 20 August 2014
Ipswich MP and rail campaigner Ben Gummer is to lead the battle by commuters against possible rail fare increases next year.
He is to seek a meeting with Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne to demand that there should be no 3.5% increase on rail fares on the Great Eastern Main Line between the region and the capital.
The threat of the rise loomed after the publication of July’s inflation figures yesterday.
The rail industry is allowed to increase the cost of its regulated tickets – season tickets and standard off-peak tickets – by the Retail Prices Index(RPI) increase in July plus 1%.
That means the 2.5% inflation rate in July could trigger rises of 3.5% in January.
However there is already speculation that the Chancellor could announce changes to this formula at the Conservative Party Conference at the end of September or during the government’s autumn statement in December.
With the General Election set for May next year, there is an expectation that the government may announce the rise can only be in line with inflation – or even that fares will be frozen in 2015.
However Mr Gummer is not prepared to wait until then for news. He said: “I will be contacting the Chancellor to say that increases of 3.5% are totally unacceptable to travellers from Ipswich.
“It is not right to keep putting up prices like this while the service is one of the worst in the country.
“The trains are old and the infrastructure has serious problems associated with it – and yet the price per mile is more in this part of the country than almost anywhere else in Britain.”
Mr Gummer is one of the leading members of the East Anglian Rail Task Force which is pressing for major improvements to the track and rolling stock in this region.
However travellers will have to wait – work on a new track between Chelmsford and Witham that is seen as vital will not start until 2019 at the earliest, and new trains will have to wait until a new long-term rail franchise is awarded in 2016.
His Labour opponent in next year’s general election, council leader David Ellesmere, agreed that a fare increase for passengers would be wrong – but felt the Conservatives were just chasing votes.
He said: “I suspect Mr Gummer would not have made this statement unless he was confident that the Chancellor is going to freeze fares.
“It is not right to increase fares in January, and it would not be right to increase them until there is real investment coming through with new trains and major infrastructure improvement.
“It is also noticeable that the government uses the RPI figure to fix rail fares but the Consumer Prices Index(CPI) – which is usually lower – to fix how much benefits should increase.”
Last month the RPI went up by 2.5% but the CPI went up by only 1.6%. If that was used to fix fares, commuters would be looking at an average increase of 2.6% rather than 3.5%.
An Abellio Greater Anglia spokesman said: “Government decides the average change to regulated rail fares, including season tickets, each year.
“The details of changes to rail fares will be confirmed later in the year.
“We recognise and share the importance that rail passengers place on value for money and improving train services in our region, and we’re working with our stakeholder partners on initiatives including the taskforce which has been established to make the case for greater investment in the Norwich to London mainline.
“We have also worked with the Department for Transport to secure a £20 million investment in a package of service enhancements to be delivered during the current franchise to October 2016, including a major refresh of the carriages on our Norwich to London intercity services, and more capacity.
“We will also continue to build a positive case for the next long franchise to help in bringing about the major enhancements to rolling stock and infrastructure for the East Anglia rail network that we all wish to see.”
East Anglia: Passengers have faced months of problems
Rail passengers on the Great Eastern Main Line between the region and London have faced months of problems during the summer.
The spate of problems began when engineering work overran at Colchester station on May 19, causing chaos for commuters returning to work in London after the weekend.
Since then there have been several other infrastructure-related problems, with signalling issues at Liverpool Street and elsewhere on the main line.
There was another engineering overrun at Ipswich last Monday which caused more misery for commuters at the end of the weekend.
There have also been a number of tragedies on the tracks – every time someone is struck by a train there has to be an initial investigation and emergency services have to be called to remove them from the line.
This causes major disruption.
Passengers have also faced problems caused by problems with trains – some services have been withdrawn at short notice because of mechanical problems and a frequent complaint is that trains have been cut from 12 to eight carriages, making it much more difficult for passengers to find seats.
All these problems prompted the managing directors of Network Rail in East Anglia Richard Schofield and Abellio Greater Anglia Jamie Burles to write a letter of apology to passengers last week.
They have pledged to try to iron out problems with the service – but in the meantime passengers are becoming increasingly irritated and the prospect of an above-inflation fare hike in the new year will do little to ease their anger.