Train passengers in Lancashire, already angered by new fare increases, have been warned they could be facing years of rail misery.
The alert has come as union bosses pledged to double their efforts in 2015 to halt government changes which they say could leave the North of England with “sub-standard, bodged-up services for many years to come.”
Rail union the RMT has announced a list of protest events outside stations across the region today to continue the campaign against proposals to re-franchise Northern Rail and First Trans-Pennine Express.
General secretary Mick Cash declared: “The Government’s whole franchise timetable for the Northern and FTPE routes has descended into chaos.
“The pledges to replace the clapped out Pacer (rolling stock) have been exposed as nothing but hot air as the Government strategy for rail across the North unravels before their eyes.
“They are also being forced to consider replacing one lash up with another by press-ganging 30-year-old London Underground stock into service (across the North), raising serious safety issues. While George Osborne has been spouting a stream of rhetoric about a ‘Northern Powerhouse,’ the real truth is that the whole region can expect sub-standard, bodged-up services for many years to come.”
The RMT campaign is urging rail travellers to oppose driver-only trains, further fare increases, cuts to services and to back the call for stations to remain staffed and to keep ticket offices open.
The protests come as thousands of commuters had their first taste of fare increases of around 2.5 per cent today when they returned to work in Lancashire after the Christmas break. Travellers on Friday - the first day of the new fares - experienced delays to services caused by over-running festive engineering work and bad weather.
Although the annual ticket increases are the lowest for five years, they were attacked by passengers and the TUC which claimed UK commuters now spend more than twice as much of their salary on rail fares than some European passengers.
“This year’s fare hike will hit passengers particularly hard because wages are rising so slowly,” said TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady. “Rail fares are now consuming a huge proportion of people’s wages, leaving precious little for other bread and butter expenses. On average passengers are now paying £600 more for a season ticket and yet seeing no change in their pay packets.”
A European survey of fares for a 50-mile commute like Brighton to London showed a monthly season ticket costs £381 in the UK (17 per cent of median earnings) compared to £274 in France (12 per cent), £218 (9 per cent) in Germany, £118 (sex per cent) in Italy and £98 (sex per cent) in Spain.