Welwyn Hatfield commuters braced for inflation-busting new year rail fare hikes

HARD-PRESSED passengers are set to be clobbered by inflation-busting fare hikes in the new year, in what has been dubbed a “war on rail commuters”.

Following a national announcement on rail fares by the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC), First Capital Connect (FCC), which runs services throughout Times Territory, revealed increases for 2011.

Last week ATOC announced national rail fares will rise on average by 6.2 per cent.

FCC’s fares from January 1 will soar by an average of 5.5 per cent.

According to Bank of England estimates, inflation next year is expected to be around two per cent.

The increases were slammed by commuter group the Hatfield Association of Rail Travellers.

Spokesman Adam Edwards said he feared “a war on rail commuters has been declared by the Government” in a new “stealth tax”.

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The Crawford Road, Hatfield, resident dismissed lengthening of trains as justification for above inflation fare rises and said charging more was unfair as many commuters “haven’t been given pay rises”.

“It’s always the reason given but you don’t see any change until years later,” he said.

He added: “If you look at what it will do for Hatfield and WGC there will be a 6.30am train that goes from three to six carriages.

“There are no significant changes at peak times.”

Mr Edwards, who commutes from Hatfield to Oakley Park each day, called for platforms to be lengthened at the station to accommodate longer trains.

And he summed up his feelings on the subject as “disappointing but not unexpected”.

A spokesperson for FCC said: “We have sought to minimise price rises.

“On most tickets, these are the first price rises for two years.

”We want to encourage continued growth in rail travel and we have set our prices accordingly.”

In a further blow, FCC station car park tariffs will increase by an average of 8.5 per cent, which includes the forthcoming 2.5 per cent hike in VAT.

FCC justified the rising charges by insisting “investment in improved facilities and security will continue”.

The firm also cited a 50 per cent fall in reported crime at station car parks in the last year to support the changes.