Tom Watson: Commuters are getting priced out of train travel
The latest hike in rail fares means that people are getting "priced out" of train travel, Labour's deputy leader has warned.
Tom Watson says commuters are being "ripped off" after fares went up by an average of 3.1 per cent, with some season tickets up by more than £100 on last year.
The West Bromwich East MP was campaigning at Stourbridge Junction railway station as part of a Labour national protest against an inflation-busting rise in fares.
It comes at a time when punctuality on the rail network is running at a 13-year low.
He has called for rail franchises to be brought back into public hands – and insists Labour's new model would be "run differently" than the old British Rail system.
He told the Express & Star: "Commuters are being too squeezed by rail fares. Service has plummeted last year on the rail network and rail fares are above inflation yet again.
"People need to know that someone has got their back. Labour has got an alternative plan for the rail network.
"We're going to bring the network in its entirely back under public control as quickly as we can. The profits of the rail network should be invested back into better services that provide better value for money and important infrastructure projects.
"It would be publicly owned, but run differently than it was before. That model is still being worked out. It was pointed out when British Rail was privatised that if you separate the network from carriers, you are going to end up with all sorts of chaos in the middle.
"That's basically what has happened.
"Right now, commuters are being ripped off.
The latest increase comes on the back of a torrid 12 months for Britain's railways, which saw one in seven trains delayed by at least five minutes.
The new prices mean a season ticket from Birmingham to London has gone up by £2,872 (36 per cent) since 2010, while a season ticket from Tame Bridge Parkway station in Sandwell to Nuneaton has gone up by more than 50 per cent over the same period.
Mr Watson added: "There is no justification for these increases. No one can explain to me why commuters are being hit by that kind of price hike.
"We're getting to the point where people are getting priced off the rail network because ticket increases over recent years have been too great."
Dudley councillor Pete Lowe said the increase in prices was "simply not fair", adding: "People are finding the cost of using the railways prohibitive. The transport network is our network, and should not be used to fill the coffers of the rich and powerful."
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has blamed trade unions for the price hikes.
He said: "The reality is the fare increases are higher than they should be because the unions demand – with threats of national strikes, but they don't get them – higher pay rises than anybody else.
"Typical pay rises are more than three per cent and that's what drives the increases.
"These are the same unions that fund the Labour Party."
Mr Grayling marked the increase in fares by announcing that a new railcard to extend child fares to 16 and 17-year-olds will be available in time for the new academic year in September, while a railcard for 26 to 30-year-olds is now on general sale.
He claimed the Government's "record investment" in the rail network will help passengers get the "frequent, affordable and reliable journeys they deserve".
Labour analysis of more than 180 routes suggests an average commuter is paying £2,980 for their annual season ticket, up £786 from 2010, which was the year the Conservatives came to power as part of a coalition government.
Rail, Maritime and Transport union general secretary Mick Cash said fare payers are being "battered by the toxic combination of gross mismanagement and profiteering".
Meanwhile, less than half (45 per cent) of passengers are satisfied with the value for money of train tickets, according to a survey by watchdog Transport Focus.
Its chief executive Anthony Smith said "the rail industry cannot be short of funding" as passengers contribute £10 billion a year in fares.
He added: "When will this translate into more reliable services that are better value for money?"
The Department for Transport has commissioned former British Airways chief executive Keith Williams to carry out a root and branch review of Britain's railway network, including fares.