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Protest over 'horrific' rise in rail fares; Rail union seeks support of 'hard-hit' passengers.

Byline: RICHARD WELCH ;RUTH LAWSON

PROTESTERS rallied against "horrific" increases in rail fares at a Tyneside train station.

Rail workers made their views heard outside Newcastle's Central Station yesterday as rush-hour commuters made their way through the busy concourse.

Transport union members staged the action in a bid to encourage passengers to take a stand against the increases in average rail fares, which were revealed yesterday.

The protests came as the Office for National Statistic announced the surprise rise in inflation to 3.2%, which the Government insisted was necessary to make improvements to the country's rail networks.

The retail prices index (RPI) figure for July, which is used to determine how much regulated rail fares, including season and saver tickets are allowed to increase in 2013, rose to 3.2% from 2.8% the previous month, despite financial experts expecting it to remain flat.

Today, North East union bosses hit out at the jump saying passengers are taking the hit while the rail company shareholders are raking in the benefits.

Micky Thompson, regional organiser at the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), said: "When I heard about the rise from 2.8% to 3.2%, call me cynical, it just seemed to fall nicely into the hands of the Government, especially as everyone will be buying their new season tickets in January when it comes into force.

"It's going to hit people harder in the pockets so the travelling public need to wake up and see what's going on."

The average fare increase for England is calculated by adding 3% to RPI, meaning a hike of 6.2%, although some tickets can go up by a further five percentage points - or more than 11% - as long as they are balanced by cuts on other fares.

Mr Thompson added: "The union's position is that while we all want a modern, reliable and punctual railway that addresses such issues as overcrowding, we do not expect the travelling public, or the loss of railway employees' jobs to pay for these efficiency savings.

"The Government should instead concentrate its efforts upon looking at the profit margins that these campaigns make and as to why they are not reinvesting the profits back into the railway."

A 60-year-old union official taking part in the action at Central Station, who asked not to be named, said: "The rises in fares are horrific. People haven't had pay rises, they have had increases in every conceivable aspect of what they have to pay for - electric, gas, housing, food and on top of that they have had to have above inflation fare increases."

Pressure was also mounting on Chancellor George Osborne to rethink the policy that allows train operators to increase regulated fares.

Stephen Joseph, chief executive of the Campaign for Better Transport, said the rises were "untenable" because fares will rise three times faster than salaries next year, which it claimed will damage any economic recovery.

Rail minister Theresa Villiers said: "We are determined to drive down the cost of running the railways so we can put an end to above inflation fare increases in the future. Our reforms aim to deliver pounds 3.5bn in efficiency savings while continuing to expand services. "That is the most effective way to respond to passenger concerns about fare levels. We are pressing ahead with a massive programme of rail improvements to tackle crowding and improve services and rail fares are making an important contribution to delivering this at a time when taxpayer funds are limited."

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ACTION Campaigners protesting at the fare increases outside Newcastle's Central Station
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Aug 15, 2012
Words:601
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