Activists were this morning (Tuesday, January 2) leafletting commuters as rail fare hikes took effect in what Labour is calling the ‘Great Tory Train Robbery’.
Their alternative is to take the railways back into public ownership with a cap on fares, ‘better and more reliable services’ and investment in the network.
Retired signalman Phil Simpson, a member of the Chester RMT union branch, said: “It’s the biggest hike for five years which will see a minimum percentage rise of 3.4% and on Merseyrail it’s 3.6%. It’s different percentages at different companies. At the same time the chief executive of Network Rail has just taken a £50,000 bonus and that’s not a pay rise, that’s on top.
“And each ticket, each fare – 25% of that goes to shareholders.”
Chester MP Chris Matheson said: “Each year we are getting price hikes that are above and beyond inflation. We know wages have been flat for 10 years but train tickets have gone up from 2010 by almost a quarter. This year they have gone up by another 3.4% to charge people for going to work.
“We have just had a debate in parliament about the tolls on the Mersey crossing. So if you have to drive to Liverpool it’s going to cost you £1,000 a year to get to and from work and the alternative is the train.”
He added: “There is no transport strategy to speak of from this government other than we are going to milk people for as much as we can get out of them.”
Mr Matheson believes nationalising the railways is the way forward as state subsidies were not ending up in the right place.
“We are already giving hundreds of millions of pounds every year to the train companies who then coincidentally give hundreds of millions of pounds in directors’ bonuses and shareholders’ dividends and a lot of the British companies are owned by foreign companies who themselves are state-owned so actually we have state-owned railways already it’s just that they are state-owned elsewhere!
“And British commuters, including those in Chester this morning, are subsidising the train fares of commuters in France, Germany and Holland because the money we pay is going to maintain dividends for foreign-owned companies.”
The other major issue, which is the subject of an ongoing industrial dispute, is the planned introduction of driver-only trains which would mean axing guards. Train companies say drivers could use cameras to monitor passenger safety.
But Mr Matheson disagrees.
“People want guards on trains. It’s safer, it gives security and this is just a cost-cutting measure and cutting costs they don’t need to cut. If they want to start to cut costs then cut the cost of a ticket or cut the cost of the money that is given to directors . They are not going to cut the costs of passenger safety.”