As passengers face inflation-busting fare rises on the first working day of 2013, Channel 4 News reveals the extent that commuting by rail has become unaffordable for many low income workers.

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Rail fare price rises, which have increased by an average of 4.2 per cent on regulated tickets, come on a day when commuters returning to work after the Christmas holidays faced delays and cancellations.

Campaigners have pointed out that it is the 10th successive above-inflation annual rise, with some fares having increased by more than 50 per cent in the last 10 years.

The Trade Union Congress (TUC) has said fares have risen far faster than wages since the recession in 2008.

Among above-average rises today are a 6.16 per cent increase for a Leeds to Wakefield season ticket, while a Ludlow to Hereford season ticket is increasing 5.28 per cent.

Some travellers have escaped the worst of the increases. Those commuting to London from Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire, for example, will only have to pay 3.18 per cent more for their season tickets.

Commuters' burden

Research by Channel 4 News, with figures supplied by TUC Analysis and the Campaign for Better Transport reveal the financial burden on regular commuters with season tickets on the UK's most heavily used rail network.

A weekly season ticket from Ashford International to London costs £119.50. This would represent almost half of a passenger's income before tax and national insurance if they were working 40 hours a week on the minimum wage and 25 per cent of average weekly earnings.

The same journey in 2003 would have represented 39 per cent of the weekly minimum wage before deductions and 19 per cent of the average wage.

However, a commuter travelling into the capital from Grays in Essex would spend just over a fifth of their pre-tax income on a season ticket if they were earning the minimum wage and 11 per cent of the average wage.

There was little change in the proportion of the income that this would represent, compared with 2003.

Passengers travelling on eight commuter routes into London selected by Channel 4 News would be spending 37 per cent of their income, if on the minimum wage and 19 per cent on an average income.

Campaign for Better Transport chief executive Stephen Joseph said: "The impact of successive government's policies on rail fares is appalling.

"It's truly shocking that we have deliberately made getting the train to work an extravagance that many struggle to afford. The time has come not just to stop the rises but to reduce fares."

Shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle accused the government of caving in to train companies by allowing some regulated fares to rise by more than 4.2 per cent as long as the overall 4.2 per cent average was maintained.

"People are paying more for a worse service," said Ms Eagle.

Rush hour cancellations

The new year brought old problems during the rush-hour. Greater Anglia had to cancel some services, and there was disruption to Southern and Southeastern train company services.

Buses had to replace trains for a time between Bourne End and Maidenhead in Berkshire and between Sudbury and Marks Tey in East Anglia.

Transport minister Norman Baker said 40 per cent of fares were regulated in a long-standing policy that had existed under successive governments.

He went on: "The balance of regulation and which fares are regulated is part of the fares and ticketing review we are now engaged upon.

"It's not ideal. There are over 100,000 rail tickets and different prices each year to deal with. It's a hugely complicated issue.

"So it's important we try to get the best value for the passenger, the best value for the taxpayer and the simplest, (most) transparent system we can, given the need to ensure rail companies can price appropriately to attract people on to off-peak trains which might otherwise be running empty."

How much of the minimum wage would commuting into London take up?

'Unaffordable luxury'

TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady said: "Train travel is in danger of becoming an unaffordable luxury for many people, especially for those on low incomes. With fares increasing faster than inflation while real wages are falling, families are really feeling the squeeze on their incomes.

"The millions of workers who rely on trains to get them to and from their places of work simply have no choice but to pay up and this year they’ll be paying much more for significantly less."

Campaign for Better Transport chief executive Stephen Joseph said: "The impact of successive government's policies on rail fares is appalling.

"It's truly shocking that we have deliberately made getting the train to work an extravagance that many struggle to afford. The time has come not just to stop the rises but to reduce fares."

Shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle accused the government of caving in to train companies by allowing some regulated fares to rise by more than 4.2 per cent as long as the overall 4.2 per cent average was maintained.

"People are paying more for a worse service," said Ms Eagle.

What your rail fare is spent on - figures supplied by the Association of Train Operating Companies

Rush hour cancellations

The new year brought old problems during the rush-hour. Greater Anglia had to cancel some services, and there was disruption to Southern and Southeastern train company services.

Buses had to replace trains for a time between Bourne End and Maidenhead in Berkshire and between Sudbury and Marks Tey in East Anglia.

Transport minister Norman Baker said 40 per cent of fares were regulated in a long-standing policy that had existed under successive governments.

He went on: "The balance of regulation and which fares are regulated is part of the fares and ticketing review we are now engaged upon.

"It's not ideal. There are over 100,000 rail tickets and different prices each year to deal with. It's a hugely complicated issue.

"So it's important we try to get the best value for the passenger, the best value for the taxpayer and the simplest, (most) transparent system we can, given the need to ensure rail companies can price appropriately to attract people on to off-peak trains which might otherwise be running empty."

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