From Ilkley Gazette, August 28th, 2018
FURIOUS campaigners say another whopping rail-fare hike on trains to and from Ilkley should be shelved until the operator "gets its house in order". The demand was made as Northern, which runs services on the Wharfedale line, was blasted for its performance.
A fiasco over rail timetables and accusations of deteriorating reliability have sparked angry calls for urgent action.
District Green Party chiefs say a 3.5 per cent fare increase in the pipeline for next year should be scrapped.
"Commuters across the Bradford district have continued to draw the short straw when it comes to rail travel and this fare increase is yet another insult," said Celia Hickson, who is the party's prospective parliamentary candidate for Shipley.
"Northern has mismanaged its franchise to such an extent that the Government needs to step in and tell the company it has to get its house in order before commuters pay more – and if Northern can't do this, the franchise needs to be returned to public control.
"For too long, our rail network has been run in the interest of the rail companies and their shareholders – not the commuters – and this has to stop."
Tim Calow, chairman of the Aire Valley Rail Users' Group, says train reliability has been in decline and he agrees there is an argument for deferring any further fare rise.
"Northern has run into serious issues and we're not happy about how services have been operating," he said.
"Improvements to the timetable haven't been well managed and passengers are not getting the benefits.
"Train reliability is getting worse – the peak-time service out of Leeds, for example, has been cancelled far too often.
"The Government is talking about 3.5 per cent in terms of a rail fare increase, which is based on the Retail Price Index, but there is an argument that it's inappropriate to have this rise.
"We've been told for a long time that fare increases have been funding improvements, but we're not getting the benefits yet.
"We were promised improvements in this franchise and there's little sign of them."
The TUC has slammed the proposed fare increases as "an insult to hard-pressed commuters" and is calling for services to be brought back under public ownership.
"After a year of delays, cancellations and overcrowded trains, the last thing passengers deserve is another wage-busting fare hike," said a spokesman.
"Returning services to public ownership would free-up money to lower ticket prices and allow for much-needed investment in our railways."
Ilkley MP John Grogan agrees there is a strong case for the line to be publicly owned.
He said: "The last two operators of the Airedale and Wharfedale lines have in fact been state-owned.
"Currently Northern is owned ultimately by Deutsche Bahn, which itself is owned by the German Government.
"And up to 2016, the lines were operated by a company in the ultimate ownership of the Dutch Government.
"I think there is a strong case when the franchise comes up for renewal for having the lines publicly owned and operated here in Britain, not least so any profits can be reinvested in this country.
"In the short run, Labour's Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald has suggested a freeze should be applied to the fares charged by three companies which have been under-performing, including those operating the Northern and TransPennine franchises. This would include season and peak-time tickets.
"The move would be funded by a one-off windfall tax on the profits of the companies concerned."
Northern told us that fare increases enable it to fund improvements to services.
A spokesman said: "Of every pound spent on train fares, 98p is invested back into the railway.
"That helps to underpin a once-in-a-generation investment to change and improve for the benefit of our customers, local communities and UK economy.
"Price increases enable us to fund significant investments in improving train services across the Northern network.
"Our customers will benefit from a £500m investment in 98 new trains that are under construction – and we are investing in completely refurbishing all our 243 trains.
"We will see all Pacer trains retiring, and we are investing in better stations and more services and expect to benefit from Network Rail work on track and signal upgrades.
"Together, these investments will significantly improve the quality of services for customers across the region."