RAIL fare increases announced today will see the recession-hit North East priced out of the economic recovery, transport groups have warned.
Protests and awareness campaigns are set to be held at stations across the country today, including at Newcastle and Berwick, as ministers prepare to announce fare rises which are due to take effect in January.
It comes as hard-hit rail commuters face a greater-than-expected 6.2% hike in average fares in the new year.
The retail prices index (RPI) figure for July, which is used to determine how much regulated rail fares including season and saver tickets are allowed to increase in 2013, rose to 3.2% from 2.8% the previous month, according to the Office for National Statistics.
The City had expected the rate to remain flat at 2.8%.
The Campaign for Better Transport has said the increase will see ticket prices rise three times faster than salaries are increasing in the North East.
But Berwick MP Sir Alan Beith has backed rail groups in their ticket battle, telling The Journal he would be writing to Transport Secretary Justine Greening urging restraint.
Campaigners say that, unless the inflation-busting rises are checked, rail fares in the region will soon take up some 10% of average pay packets.
Campaign chief executive Stephen Joseph has called on the Government to halt fares rises in the same way a planned hike in fuel duty was dropped in June.
He said: In the North East this is particularly an issue on inter-city and long distance services, and what it means is that, from January, the North East will effectively be much less accessible from other parts of the country. Having that hanging over the region will inevitably lead to huge problems doing business there.
Sir Alan backed that warning, adding that the Liberal Democrats were the only party pushing for below inflation increases.
He said: The coalition is, quite rightly, investing more than any Government since the Victorian era in an effort to sort out the mess we inherited. But we cant just pass on the cost to people travelling every day just to get to work.
People are struggling to make ends meet against a backdrop of wage freezes and rising utility bills.
The Treasury has to realise that people cannot be expected to absorb huge rises in rail fares on top.
The calls for lower fares come as the influential Capital Economics forecasting group warns that the North East economy continues to be the weakest of any UK mainland region.
Last night North East Chamber of Commerce chief executive James Ramsbotham said ministers needed to recognise the odds were increasingly stacked against the regions economy.
He said: This is deeply concerning news for both businesses and our workforce. The Government has challenged us to double exports by 2020 yet seems unprepared to offer any support to help achieve this.
We have restrictive air passenger duty legislation, a road infrastructure with pinch points groaning under the weight of traffic and now this plan to increase rail fares. It seems utterly counter-productive.
Ms Greening said there was at least the possibility of delaying the rise.
She said: I am keen to see what we can do to keep rail fares down to something affordable. I shall be looking at whether there is a way of doing that in the autumn but we have to stick with our deficit-reduction policy.
Michael Roberts, chief executive of the Association of Train Operating Companies, said: It has been Government policy during the past eight years for passengers to pay a larger share of the cost of operating the railways and to focus taxpayers money on investing in longer term improvements to the network.
Any flexibility train companies have within the rules is to maximise revenue for the Government.
Bob Crow, leader of the Rail Maritime and Transport union, said passengers will be rightly angry when they find out the full extent of inflation-busting fare increases.
He added: The case for renationalising our railways, and throwing the extortionists and rip-off merchants off the tracks, is now overwhelming.