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Rail Fares

Volume 745: debated on Thursday 8 February 2024

Since 2010, regulated fares across Great Britain have decreased by around 7% compared with the retail prices index. The Government continue to intervene to keep fares affordable, and to encourage travel, by capping increases below inflation and delivering initiatives such as the second great British rail sale. We have to strike a balance between encouraging passengers to use our rail network and supporting the rail industry to get back on a good financial footing as it continues to deal with a revenue shortfall following the pandemic.

For a period last year, Urmston train station in my constituency was one of the country’s 10 worst performing train stations for service reliability. Given the level of service experienced by my constituents who use Urmston and other stations on the line, why are they set to face an inflation-busting fare increase in March?

If we take the current year’s fares as an example, we delivered the biggest Government intervention on rail fares since privatisation by capping fare increases at 5.9%, which was 6.4 percentage points below the July RPI. It is all about striking a balance, and I believe that balance is a fair one.

In the last three years, the UK taxpayer has contributed £45.9 billion to keep the railways going. This year’s figure of 4.9% is, again, below inflation. It cannot be that bad, because Labour-run Wales has done exactly the same. It is better than Scotland, where the SNP has put up fares by 8.7%.

If a person were to get a train from Market Rasen to London later this morning, not only would they be hit by a hefty rail fare, as we all know, but, worse, it would take them over three hours and two changes. My hon. Friend has repeatedly promised me and my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) that he will give us a through train to London. I understand that he has now approved that—he can confirm it today—but it is held up on the desk of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. We do not want some bean counter in the Treasury stopping our train.

I fear a career-limiting response. My right hon. Friend’s campaign is strong, and he is absolutely right that it has this team’s support; I am sure that it will have support across Government. It is currently being looked at, and I hope to be able to give him and his colleagues good news.

I apologise for the disruption to normal service: my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) is on Committee business, so the House will have to put up with a spokesperson replacement service this morning.

Last October, peak fares were scrapped across Scotland’s railways for six months. That has been extended to nine months, until the end of June. As a result, ScotRail services are 4% busier and demand has shifted across the service day. Meanwhile, Department for Transport-owned London North Eastern Railway has pushed up prices for thousands of tickets in the name of simplification, in some cases costing passengers going to and from Scotland hundreds of pounds extra. Will the Minister look to the lessons that Scotland has learned from scrapping peak fares, and apply that policy across Anglo-Scottish services?

I am delighted to talk about things that are being scrapped, because perhaps we can shift towards rail freight. The SNP budget has just been set. Mode shift revenue support has always been given to rail freight, to move freight from road to rail, but the SNP Scottish Government have just announced that they are axing that subsidy. Not only that, but for the year to come, the cross-border subsidy between Scotland and the rest of Great Britain is being scrapped, too. We stand by the rail freight subsidy, so we will fund the Scottish element.

What are the Scottish Government doing? They talk about decarbonisation while shifting more freight on to the roads, because they refuse to support rail freight. That is an absolute shocker. That, along with the 8.7% increase in fares and the £80 million cut to ScotRail, means that the hon. Gentleman is in no place to lecture anyone when it comes to rail.