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Wednesday, 26 November 2014

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Latest plans for rail industry ‘a disaster’ for Cumbrian passengers

A rail union leader says it will be a disaster for the industry and passengers if Government proposals go ahead.

Craig Johnston photo
Craig Johnston

Carlisle-based RMT regional organiser Craig Johnston has branded plans that could see passengers forking out more for peak-time fares as “appalling”.

He says his union will continue to press the Government not to go through with the reforms, arguing that they will leave passengers in Cumbria harder out of pocket than most.

As part of proposals it emerged that some travellers could be rewarded for avoiding the peak times, others could pay more in order to “smooth demand” at the busiest times.

They were some of the findings from a paper published by Transport Secretary Justine Greening in response to a Whitehall-commissioned rail report on cost-cutting by Sir Roy McNulty.

Mr Johnston said: “It’s a disaster for the industry. It’s scandalous what’s going on.

“It’s a disaster for the railways, a disaster for rail workers and a disaster for passengers. It’s the Con-Dem Government’s triple-whammy.”

The union official fears cost cuts on the railways could jeopardise passenger safety if drivers are forced to work alone without guards on the train. He has also raised fears about the impact on services should more ticket offices close.

Carlisle MP John Stevenson, co-chairman of the all-party Parliamentary group on the West Coast Mainline, believes a balance believes policy should strike a compromise.

He said: “It’s about getting the balance between ensuring those who need to travel at peak times are not overcharged and encouraging passengers to go at off-peak times to get better use of the railway system.

“I understand the idea of having a more flexible pricing system. It’s trying to manage demand.”

The RMT nationally has raised the possibility of strike action, fearing that up to 12,000 jobs could be at risk.

Ms Greening outlined billions of pounds worth of savings that would be made over the next few years so that above-inflation fare rises for season ticket holders would be ended.

She said smart ticketing technology, so that passengers across England and Wales could enjoy Oyster-style tickets, would be rolled out. The consultation paper also explores the possibility of cheaper season tickets for those who do not work a full five-day week. But just how, and when, changes to fares and the way they are bought will pan out will not be known until the end of the consultation on fares and ticketing.

Mr Johnston believes rail travellers in Cumbria are already penalised for the cost of fares to major cities with further rises only making things worse.

Rail industry bodies the Association of Train Operating Companies, Network Rail and the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) all welcomed the command paper, with ORR saying it was essential that railway “delivered for customers on cost, safety and performance.

Trade body the CBI said the Government had set out “much-needed clarity and direction for the future of our railways”, but the TUC expressed concern at the possible fare rises and possible cuts to ticketing and station staff.

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