North Herts passengers unimpressed with rail fare hikes but rail bosses insist cash will be well spent

One of the new Class 700 Thameslink trains.

One of the new Class 700 Thameslink trains. - Credit: Archant

Most commuters were unimpressed with an average rise in ticket prices of 3.4 per cent when they returned to work on January 2, but Govia Thameslink and Network Rail insist a swathe of upcoming benefits will make it worth your while

Fare increases have hit commuter pockets.

Fare increases have hit commuter pockets. - Credit: Alamy

Commuters across Comet country faced the headache of train fare hikes of an average of 3.4 per cent on their tickets as they boarded trains on the first working day of the new year.

It’s the biggest increase to fares since 2013 with a hike of up to 3.6 per cent on season tickets.

The price increases are set by the Department for Transport in line with rises in inflation.

A 12-month season ticket for unlimited daily travel between Biggleswade and all London transport zones now costs £5,856 or £12.62 per day. From Stevenage it is £5,084 – £10.95 per day – and from Hitchin it is £5,216 or £11.24 per day.

Stevenage Railway Station

Stevenage Railway Station - Credit: Archant

In our area the cash goes to the government which pays Govia Thameslink a fixed sum to run the service.

Commuters were mainly unimpressed with the fair increases despite the fact the government and Network Rail says the cash will go towards a series of wide-reaching improvements in services over the coming months.

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Mark Rurojc commented on the Comet’s Facebook story: “How can they put up the prices if you can’t get a seat, trains get cancelled all the time, trains don’t run on time, no late night trains anymore and the state of the toilets on some of the trains is disgusting.”

Mark Newbury posted: “For years they have been saying the increase is for improvements. I have seen no improvements for over 20 years.”

The Great Northern line is operated by Govia Thameslink Railway Ltd.

The Great Northern line is operated by Govia Thameslink Railway Ltd. - Credit: Archant

And there is good reason for their complaints.

The National Audit Office announced last week that Govia Thameslink Railway was the worst performing operator in the UK with 7.7 per cent of services cancelled or delayed by more than 30 minutes between July 2015 and March 2017.

Lack of drivers, train reliability, Network Rail’s management of the rail network, and failures of infrastructure assets such as signalling were found to be to blame.

Some passengers were more sympathetic however. Scott Peacock posted: “I have a disability and travel by train into London regularly from Baldock and of course price increase isn’t fair, but I see where train companies and Network Rail are coming from, they trying to improve services for passengers and with the money going into infrastructure, it’s still value for money.”

How the new Great Northern class 700 trains will look.

How the new Great Northern class 700 trains will look. - Credit: Archant

Danielle Archer posted: “The trains between Stevenage and London are much better now, generally running on time. The newer trains have more space and are much better designed. However, they’re not keeping up with the amount of people now using them - we need more of them – additional trains and more of them with 12 carriages so commuters get a seat.”

Paul Plummer, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group, which brings together train operators and Network Rail, said: “On average, fares will rise by less than inflation this year. For every pound paid in fares, 97p goes directly back to operating and improving services and, with more people travelling that means more money for investment by the private and public partnership railway to build the better network Britain needs.”

Whilst he welcomes such investment, Stevenage MP Stephen McPartland says Govia Thameslink has been struggling to provide a reliable service to and from London and he is having regular meetings with Govia and Network Rail executives as well as the secretary of State for Transport to try to seek improvements.

What you can expect for your money:

The government and Network Rail says increased rail fares will help it pay for a series of major improvements to services in our area, so what can we expect to see in the coming months?

Rail operator Govia Thameslink is set to unveil a series of major improvements to its services from May this year with new trains, increased capacity and direct routes connecting our area with Brighton and the south coast.

The changes include added capacity into London for 35,000 to 40,000 more passengers in each three-hour peak period; New cutting-edge Class 700 Thameslink trains; New north-south cross-London connections for Gatwick Airport and Brighton. There will also be an interchange at Farringdon to link with the Elizabeth line Crossrail services across central London – from December 2019.

However consultation on the new timetables coming into force throughout this year has provoked opposition from some who believe that while there will be an increase in the numbers of services into London there will be fewer services on Sundays and limited stops for some off-peak services.

Stevenage MP Stephen McPartland has praised the increase in peak time services but says any reduction at other times is unacceptable.

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