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Rail fares set to rise by 3.2%, Grayling angers unions with calls for lower inflation

Train fares in the UK will rise 3.2% in January 2019, the government has confirmed – marginally below the expected 3.5%.

This increase is less than the 3.6% rise introduced this January, which was the steepest in five years, but has still been criticised by commuters who have called for a freeze in fare prices.

The rise could increase season ticket prices by more than £100.

Transport secretary Chris Grayling has called for future rail fare and wage hikes to be based on the lower Consumer Prices Index (CPI) rather than the Retail Prices Index (RPI) which is currently used to adjust regulated fares every January. The government’s preferred measure of inflation, CPI, rose to 2.5% in July from 2.4% in June.

A lower measure of inflation would also mean lower pay rises for rail staff.

Grayling’s comments have angered some unions, with the chief executive of RMT Mike Cash labelling today’s news as “just another kick in the teeth.”

He said: “Chris Grayling’s desperate attempt to try and make frontline rail workers pay for his incompetence and the train operators’ greed has backfired on him just like everything else he touches.”

The transport secretary said he was “very disappointed” by the union’s reaction and argued that the lower inflation measure is used by “pretty much the whole of the rest of the public sector.” He also stressed that any changes wouldn’t happen overnight as there are existing pay deals in place.

Calls for a freeze in fair prices have come from various commuter groups, including Transport Focus. The watchdog’s chief executive, Anthony Smith, said in a statement that a freeze in fares would “benefit all passengers” and “begin the process of re-building trust.”

The Rail Delivery Group has defended the rise, stating that the increase will contribute to important investments that will be made in to the rail industry.

Paul Plummer, its chief executive, said: “Fares are underpinning a once-in-a-generation investment plan to improve the railway and politicians effectively determine that season ticket prices should change in line with other day-to-day costs to help fund this.

“We understand that aspects of the current fares system are frustrating for people which is why as part of the industry’s plan, train companies are also leading a consultation to update regulation and improve the range of fares on offer, making the system simpler and easier to use for customers.”

Research carried out by the Trade Union Congress (TUC) has highlighted the scale of inflation in the rail industry over the past 10 years. Fares have increased at more than twice the speed of wages since 2008, according to new figures released on Tuesday by the TUC.

Nominal earnings have grown by 18% in the UK over that time, whilst rail fares have risen by 42%.

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