Rail fares in England and Wales are to rise this week as part of the biggest ticket price hike in nearly a decade.
In what is the biggest rise since 2013, according to the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), and in what is believed to be in line with the Retail Price Index (RPI) measure on inflation for last July, plus one percentage point, the cap on rail fare rises has increased from today, and it means ticket prices could go up by as much as 3.8%.
This means, as an example, that a year-round season ticket between Liverpool and Manchester goes up by £105 to £2,865.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic began, most rail fares – excluding season tickets, which are regulated by the government – were controlled by train operators, but those have since come under state control.
This was after billions of pounds were pumped into the industry to keep services running.
Addressing the price hike, a Department for Transport spokesperson told Sky News: “We have protected passengers by delaying these fare rises by two months and, even then, opting for a figure well below current inflation rates, but we must now look to recoup some of the £14 billion which was spent to keep vital services running throughout the pandemic in a way that is fair for all taxpayers.”
The DfT says that despite price rises, it hopes it will still “be able to encourage people back on to trains” whilst “funding the necessary improvements and unprecedented investment that will benefit all those who use our railways.”
This week’s price hike has been criticised as “counterproductive” by campaigners and various transport groups.
Bruce Williamson of the campaign group Railfuture called the rises to fares “eye-watering” and said the government was “stoking the fire of the cost of living crisis”, adding that it was time to stop linking rail fares to the RPI inflation index.
“Inflation this year is likely to hit 8%, so unless the government changes the formula, the average rail traveller will be bankrupted next year,” he said.
Paul Tuohy – Chief Executive of Campaign for Better Transport – said: “This fare rise couldn’t come at a worst time and will simply add to the cost-of-living crisis. We need to get people back into workplaces, eating in town centre cafes and shopping on their lunch breaks to help kickstart the economy.”
The government has also received criticism.
Labour’s shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh said: “This brutal Tory fare hike will be a nightmare for millions of passengers”, while Manuel Cortes – the general secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association – said that raising rail fairs post-pandemic is “a staggeringly stupid move by this Tory government”.
“It’s almost as though ministers want to force people off our railways and into cars in an effort to speed up our climate crisis,” he added.
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‘Significant risk’ of UK gas shortages this winter, regulator warns
Energy regulator Ofgem has warned that the UK faces a ‘significant risk’ of gas shortages this winter.
According to reports in The Times, the regulator has unveiled concerns that the country could face blackouts over the coming months thanks to an undersupply of gas to Europe caused by Russia’s war with Ukraine.
Warning that a “gas supply emergency” could be looming ahead, the energy regulator has said that some gas-fired power plants could see their supplies cut off, which in turn would stop generators from producing electricity.
The alert comes just days before an expected update from the National Grid on the likelihood of countrywide power cuts this winter.
Responsing to arequest from SSE, which owns several gas power stations, Ofgem outlined what is set to be a huge issue of concern given that the UK relies on large gas plants to produce the biggest share of its electricity supply.
The regulator also pointed to rules that could see power plants penalised as a result of shortages, warning of a worst-case scenario that would see the “potential insolvency of gas-fired generators” caused by rules that require plants to pay huge charges if they fail to deliver on promised quotas.
Adding that the issue must be addressed to prevent a “significant impact on the safety and security of the electricity and/or gas systems”, the regulator echoed concerns now widespread in Europe as its comments followed a similar statement made by the International Energy Agency (IEA) this morning.
Europeans are already being told they must lower their thermostats and boilers in preparation in case gas supplies are cut off, with Paris-based agency IEA warning today that the EU must focus on getting underground gas reserve levels to 90% of capacity in case of a complete Russian supply shut-off.
Preparation are already being made in Europe with the German government having approved a set of energy-saving measures for the winter to limit use in public buildings. In France, meanwhile, companies have already been warned they may face energy rationing this winter.
Whilst the UK government is yet to announce any energey saving measures, Ofgem has said that it expect s“this winter to be more challenging than last year” and that it is taking “reasonable regulatory steps to mitigate and reduce the risks”.