No word on next year's rail fares despite new inflation figure

Greater Anglia train at Needham Market

Next year's rail fares are unlikely to be announced for several months. - Credit: Paul Geater

Rail passengers are unlikely to have any clue about the cost of tickets next year for several months - despite the publication of the July inflation figure on which they have traditionally been based.

For most of the last two decades rail fare increases have come in on January 1 and been based on July's Retail Price Inflation figure which was announced as 3.8%,

Until 2020 the fare rise had been pegged at the inflation rate for several years - but this year its implementation was delayed until March 1 and then prices went up by inflation plus 1%.

This has led to speculation that next year's rise could be 4.8% if the same pattern is followed - but the Department for Transport, which sets all rail fares in England, said no decision has been made and and an announcement about next year's fares would be made "in due course."

In government-speak that means: "We haven't started thinking about them yet!" And officials from operators and the Rail Delivery Group which represents Train Operating Companies and Network Rail say negotiations with the Department for Transport are currently focussed on new contracts to replace existing franchise agreements rather than fares.

The industry doesn't know what the new fares are likely to be - nor when they might come in.

And there could be discussions about how the government sees the rail industry and the need to bring back passengers when fares are discussed. 

At present trains are carrying about 55% of pre-pandemic passenger numbers although some trains to tourist destinations are busier.

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The government will have to decide whether to bring in modest fare rises in a bid to encourage passengers to return - or put them up higher to try to recoup some of the billions of pounds it has spent on supporting the network during the pandemic.

Existing franchises like Greater Anglia are set to be replaced by a new operating model based on contracts awarded by Great British Railways which is being set up by the Department for Transport to run trains and operate the country's rail infrastructure.

But details of how the new system will work are still being discussed.