Workers who commute by train spend up to six times as much of their salaries on fares as European passengers on publicly owned railways, a study has revealed.
Action for Rail, a campaign by rail unions and the TUC, said some UK workers were spending 13% of their monthly wages on rail travel compared with 2% in Italy.
The research was published to highlight protests at more than 60 railway stations by campaigners and rail workers to mark the return to work after the festive break, with fares having increased at the weekend.
The analysis looked at a UK worker on an average salary who is spending 13% of their monthly wages on a £357.90 monthly season ticket from Chelmsford to London.
By contrast, the average amount of salary going on a monthly season ticket for a similar journey is 2% in Italy, 3% in Spain and 4% in Germany.
In France, which is the closest to the UK for cost, commuters still spend nearly a third less on season tickets than their counterparts in the UK, said the report.
A survey of more than 1,700 adults for the campaign group found that three out of five believed train services in the UK were poor value for money, with a similar number supporting public ownership.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “It’s hardly surprising that UK passengers think rail travel is bad value for money. They are shelling out far more of their income on rail fares than their counterparts in Europe.
“Years of failed privatisation have left us with exorbitant ticket prices, overcrowded trains and ageing infrastructure. Ministers need to wake up to this reality instead of allowing train companies to milk the system at taxpayers’ and commuters’ expense.”
Rail, Maritime and Transport union leader Mick Cash said: “Today is national rail rip-off day when, along with the looming Christmas credit card bills, the British public awake to another kick in the teeth from the greedy private train companies. We would urge everyone to join with the trade unions to end the money-making racket on our rail tracks in 2016. ”
TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said: “Profit made on passengers in the UK is not reinvested here, but repatriated to Germany, France, Belgium and Hong Kong to subsidise journeys of passengers there.
“We need a railway for the future – that means a publicly owned rail service operating in the interests of British passengers, with every penny made in profit reinvested in the railways or in cheaper fares for passengers.”
Unite acting national officer for rail Hugh Roberts said: “European state-owned rail companies provide excellent services and cheaper fares as part of coherent national economic strategies. The UK Government’s ideological reliance on the profit-hungry private sector has been a disaster – and the majority of the public wants the railways taken back into public ownership.”
Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan said: “Taking the railways back into public hands is a popular policy. The vast majority of voters – Conservative included – are fed up with paying sky-high fares so the privatised train companies can take their slice. Commuters travelling into London from Kent and Sussex know their £5,000 a year season tickets would be much cheaper under public ownership.”
Action for Rail said it looked at the price of monthly season tickets in five countries and compared them with figures for annual median earnings for 2014 based on OECD statistics.
Tabulated by: country, journey, distance in miles, monthly season ticket price, monthly median earnings, % of monthly median earnings
UK, Chelmsford-London, 29, £358, £2,745, 13%
Germany, Eberswalde-Berlin, 31, £95, £2,452, 4%
France, Etampes-Paris, 29, £234, £2,422, 10%
Italy, Cerveteri Ladispoli Rome, 29, £37, £1,929, 2%
Spain, Arenys de Mar Barcelona, 27, £56, £1,805, 3%
Paul Plummer, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group, which represents Network Rail and train operators, said: “For a decade successive governments chose to increase season tickets above the rate of inflation so passengers pay more of the cost of running the railway and taxpayers less.
“But more recently government has chosen to stop this trend. By looking purely at price, these figures also ignore that trains in Britain are often faster and more frequent than those on the continent and that European railways are often more subsidised by taxpayers or do not spend as much maintaining and improving their networks.
“Since rail franchising was introduced, passenger numbers have doubled. Whereas the network was running at a £2bn a year loss in 1997, in terms of day-to-day costs, it now virtually covers these expenses, meaning government can focus investment on renewing and improving the railway to meet Britain’s needs.”
Jeremy Corbyn joined protesters at London King’s Cross station to call for lower ticket prices. The Labour leader said his party first wanted to see more control over fares before eventually nationalising train operators.
Speaking at the protest, Mr Corbyn said: “We’re here to join with a lot of passengers and rail workers who welcome the fact we’ve got a good railway system, welcome all the public investment that’s gone into it but are very concerned about the fare rises that have gone in, the high fares that many people have to pay, the problems for commuters travelling in and out of all of our major cities and the need for us the public to have much more control over the fare system on our railways.”
Asked what Labour would do about rail fares, he said: “Immediately to get control of the ticketing system; in the longer run to bring the train operating companies into public ownership so that we can then have control over them.”