Peak fares set to rise in rail savings plan

Marion Dakers
THE RAIL network must cut £3.5bn a year from its spending and overhaul ticket prices, transport secretary Justine Greening said yesterday.

Setting out the coalition’s plan to shake up Britain’s trains, Greening said above-inflation fare rises on regulated routes will be abolished.

But she said she will look into hiking prices on congested peak journeys to “smooth out” the rush hour.

“[T]his could postpone the need for some of the new trains and infrastructure that are likely to be required in future years,” said her report, which was in response to Sir Roy McNulty’s findings on rail value last year.

Smart ticketing systems similar to the Oyster card could be rolled out nationwide under the proposals.

Greening said this means passengers could buy tickets at post offices and libraries – but the unions warned that staff at stations were put at risk by the shake-up.

Others said the plan was “fanciful” given the number and complexity of train franchises. “I can’t imagine the Barrow to Workington route ever having the kinds of facilities that you need to run smart ticketing,” rail analyst Christian Wolmar told City A.M.

While the industry can still expect to receive some public subsidy, Greening said it must find £3.5bn in savings by 2019, or 30 per cent of its running costs – a higher target than the £2.5bn suggested by McNulty.

Under the government’s plans, powers will be “devolved” to Network Rail and train operating companies, which are starting to take responsibility for railway stations.

The Association of Train Operating Companies said it was willing to work with the government on “this once-in–a-generation opportunity to turn reform into reality”, but warned against burdening them with more red tape.

Shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle said the overhaul has “a massive accountability gap at its heart”.