Rail passengers fear review could 'push up fares'

Train at station Image copyright (C) British Broadcasting Corporation
Image caption Annual season tickets for main line rail travellers in the South East rose by an average of 5.8% this year

Passengers in the South East, which has some of the highest rail fares in Europe, are already familiar with regularly increasing prices.

Now a government-backed review says there should be a "rebalancing" of rail fares but no increase overall.

Sir Roy McNulty, who carried out the review, says fares are "already too high". His team said the Government should undertake a full review of fares policy and structures, "aiming to move towards a system that is seen to be less complex and more equitable".

No doubt commuters in the South East would agree. In January this year annual season tickets for main line rail travellers rose by an average of 5.8%. That compares to a 12.8% increase on season tickets from Ramsgate to London which rose to over £4376.

The Ashford to London route also increased by 12.7% taking them to over £4328. And the Eastbourne to London fares increased by 7.7% to £3,868.

Managing capacity

Under the recommendations, off-peak fares could increase by as much as 30%. The idea is to manage capacity. At the moment some peak time services have empty seats on them while the first off-peak train is extremely over-crowded as passengers wait for the cheaper fares.

Mr McNulty says he envisages "some rebalancing of fares but no increase overall". So, in theory off-peak fares could increase but peak fares could potentially decrease.

But the Liberal Democrat MP for Eastbourne Stephen Lloyd says he'll resist any further price increases without improvements to the service.

The Transport Secretary Philip Hammond says the railways are a "booming business" but the industry needs to change. He says the reforms would lead to a future in which "we do not have to have fares rising above the level of inflation".

That would be welcomed by passengers across Kent, Sussex and Surrey who've experienced inflation-busting increases in recent years. But many I've spoken to fear that off-peak prices may increase without a corresponding reduction in peak fares.

That view is shared by Alexandra Woodsworth from the Campaign for Better Travel. She says they key is to increase capacity on the railways - not prices.