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UPDATE: Rail fair increases are ‘a smack in the face’ for commuters

James Cartlidge MP at Sudbury train station
James Cartlidge MP at Sudbury train station

The local Labour group has hit out at price increases to rail fairs from Sudbury describing it as a ‘smack in the face’ for commuters.

After joining campaigners at Sudbury train station on Monday morning Sudbury and Great Cornard Labour Group leader Jack Owen criticised the increase.

The 2017 cost of an annual season ticket from Sudbury-Liverpool Street is £4,936, up 1.9 per cent from 2016, when the fare was £4,844.

Mr Owen, who will be the Labour candidate for Sudbury in May’s Suffolk County Council elections, said: “These rises are a smack in the face for the hard working people of Sudbury who are employed in London.

“With a season ticket and travelcard costing in excess of £5,000 a year the number of people who can afford to travel by train to work is decreasing.

“If numbers are decreasing then we have to worry about the long-term viability of the line which will undoubtedly be called into question, something we cannot allow to happen.

“Our local MP has said many things about improving rail travel for Sudbury’s commuters, but he is all words and no action. A Labour Government would take direct action to decrease fares and increase investment in infrastructure, something which I and many other people would agree with. “These fair rises show that the Tories cannot be trusted with our railways. If I am elected to the county council I will do all I can to support our vital railway line.”

Services on the line are managed by Abellio Greater Anglia which won the £1.4bn franchise in August last year. The fare increase however has been regulated by the government.

A Greater Anglia spokesperson said: “Our average fare increase is 1.8 per cent, which is lower than the national average.

“Some fares are staying the same and we continue to offer great value off peak fares such as advance, super off peak day return, off peak day return, duo and kids for £2 deals, as well as group save discounts.

“We will be introducing a range of new fares and ticket options including flex carnet tickets, offering discounts for customers travelling on the same route regularly but not every day, and new advance purchase ticket prices, available up to ten minutes before travel, during the course of our new franchise.

“Over the next year we are rolling out a number of initiatives to tackle key customer priorities. We are investing £5 million to make our existing trains more reliable, working with Network Rail to secure better rail infrastructure performance - including the track, signalling and overhead line equipment - and introducing 18 additional trains in the summer to provide extra seats at peak times.

“In addition, season tickets can now be issued as smartcards, providing a more convenient and resilient ticket for our most regular customers.”

The flex carnet tickets were one of the key changes South Suffolk MP James Cartlidge was campaigning for both before and following his election.

When Abellio Greater Anglia was given the franchise in August Mr Cartlidge said the offer of improvements in the region and on the Sudbury-Marks Tey branch line - including new hybrid diesel/electric trains - was better than he could have hoped for.

It was announced then that there would likely be a 1.9 per cent rise in tickets.

At the time Mr Cartlidge said: “The price rise will be frustrating but this is a very extensive and quality upgrade and the value add will be huge. It wouldn’t have been acceptable if there were price rises with no improvements.”

Following Mr Owen’s criticism Mr Cartlidge said: “It is quite understandable that commuters, already paying significant sums of post-tax income for their season ticket, are vexed about further fare rises when problems continue on the Greater Anglia service on a daily basis.

“The fact is that we have a program of investment in our railways that is unprecedented in scale but takes time to deliver, and above all, takes money. That money has to come from somewhere. If other politicians tell commuters that they will cut fares, the money to do that cannot be conjured out of thin air and has to come from other taxation, which will be paid our of everybody’s pockets including those who never use the railways. We think that if there is going to be such huge investment in the railways, paying for it must be a balance between passengers and taxpayers, and between the private and public sectors.

“Regarding my own record on Sudbury rail services and being ‘all talk no action’, in barely a year and a half since being elected the Government has delivered a new franchise that will see Sudbury services no longer terminating at Marks Tey but going on to Colchester Town, the first such improvement in Sudbury connectivity for many years. The worst problem on the line since my election was ‘leafgate’, a phrase I christened in an adjournment debate on Greater Anglia services called by Jo Churchill and I, where I raised the problem of the 13 day closure of our line and received a promise from the Minister for senior figures to visit Sudbury and see the problem first hand.

“This resulted in the most senior bosses from Abellio and Network Rail, together with the leading expert from the Department of Transport, taking the Sudbury line to meet me at the Town Hall and agree an action plan to avoid a repeat, which has been successful.

“This included many detailed actions e.g. ensuring a much closer wheel lathe for future leaf mulch remedial work – may sound minor, but its distance was the key reason for the debacle, and is the sort of improvement many will not notice but is the result of my pressing on this issue. Most importantly, we are going to see brand new rolling stock on our local line before the Parliament is out, again for the first time in many years, and something which I specifically called for and is going to be delivered. This should make a ‘leafgate’ repeat far less likely, improve capacity and make our local trains much less prone to breakdown.

“Finally, I held my first ever Parliamentary adjournment debate on flexible fares following concerns raised by part-time commuters in my constituency and I am delighted once again we are making real progress, with smart ticketing being rolled out in Anglia and national investment in more flexible fare structures.”

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