Passengers and commuters at Waterloo Station in London as engineering work continues in a major overhaul of the travel hub. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday August 7, 2017. The project to extend the station's platforms will allow longer trains to operate on suburban routes from December and provide space for 30% more passengers at peak times, Network Rail said. See PA story RAIL Waterloo. Photo credit should read: John Stillwell/PA Wire
Commuters at Waterloo station, London. The fares increase will renew calls for the railways to be renationalised © PA

Rail unions are planning protests at stations across the country for Tuesday, as commuters brace for what is likely to be the biggest rise in rail fares in five years.

Annual inflation figures for July, released on Tuesday, will dictate how regulated fares — which include commuter fares and many season tickets — will rise in 2018. Unions are warning that prices have already risen at twice the pace of wages since 2010. 

Economists forecast the retail prices index (RPI) measure of inflation will come in at about 3.5 per cent for July, which would mark the highest reading since 2011.

Until 2013, fare rises were affected by a formula of RPI plus 1 percentage point.

Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT union, said passengers have been affected by a “toxic combination of fare rises easily outstripping wages”. The union claims rail fares have risen by about 32 per cent in eight years, while average weekly earnings have increased by 16 per cent during the same period.

Based on an RPI reading of 3.5 per cent, the RMT says an annual season ticket for a commuter in Brighton travelling to London Bridge station would rise by £134 to £3,966 from next year.

The price rises are set to follow a particularly tortuous couple of years for rail commuters, especially those who rely on the Southern line from the south coast to London, which has been severely affected by strikes and delays.

In July, the government fined the line’s operator, Govia Thameslink Railway, £13.4m for the disruption.

The fare increase will also likely provide those who have been campaigning for a renationalisation of Britain’s railways with further fuel for their cause. Rail was just one of the industries the opposition Labour party proposed to take out of private hands if it won the last general election.

“The private operators and government say the rises are necessary to fund investment but the reality is that they are pocketing the profits while passengers are paying more for less with rail engineering work being delayed or cancelled, skilled railway jobs being lost and staff cut on trains, stations and at ticket offices,” Mr Cash said.

A spokesman for the Department for Transport said the government “carefully monitors how rail fares and average earnings change, and keeps under review the way fare levels are calculated”.

“We are investing in the biggest rail modernisation programme for over a century to improve services for passengers — providing faster and better trains with more seats. We have always fairly balanced the cost of this investment between the taxpayer and the passenger. We are driving the industry hard to improve efficiency to ensure we maximise the value of passengers’ and taxpayers’ investment in the railways,” he added.

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