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MUNDELL CHALLENGED OVER BACKING FOR RIP-OFF RAIL FARES

The Secretary of State for Scotland David Mundell has been challenged to explain why he backed hikes in rail fares for his constituents at a time average wages in the area have plummeted.

Rail passengers in the region returning to work and commuting by rail have been hit by a double whammy with both the UK and Scottish Government increasing rail fares. The UK Government, backed by Mr Mundell, have slapped an extra 3.6% on fares from today (3 January), which cover those services running from Lockerbie station by Virgin rail and Transpennine Express. This will mean passengers travelling from Lockerbie to Edinburgh will see an anytime return fare rise from £35.60 to £36.90 from today.   

Meanwhile the Scottish Government have introduced an average 3.2% rise from today, which covers Scotrail services such as those on the Nith Valley line. A current single from Kirkconnel to Glasgow will rise from £13.50 to £14 from today.

The rise comes at a time the UK Government’s own figures published at the end of 2017 revealed that Dumfries and Galloway was the lowest waged economy in Scotland- with wages falling last year at a time average wages in Scotland and the UK showed a rise.

The Office of National Statistics (ONS) figures revealed on 13th December showed that on average a full time worker resident in Dumfries and Galloway is paid £460.50 a week- down from £462 a week last year. This is compared to an average of £547.70 for Scotland and £552.70 for the whole of the UK- with both figures increasing this year. The figures are even poorer for women resident in the region who are paid £407.70 per week on average, compared to their male equivalents who receive £489.30.

Commenting on the latest revelations, Scottish Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity, Colin Smyth MSP said, “Passengers across Dumfries and Galloway are being ripped off by rail fare hikes from both the UK and Scottish Governments, at a time wages locally are plummeting. These rail fare hikes are the biggest for a decade, yet this year we saw average pay in our region fall. Commuters returning to work after the festive period are being hit by a double whammy from both the UK and Scottish Government even although passengers in this country already pay some of the highest fares in Western Europe.”

“David Mundell needs to explain why as Secretary of State for Scotland he fully supported these rip-off rises in fares imposed by the Government he is a member of, instead of standing up for hard-pressed commuters travelling from Lockerbie station. More and more people are travelling from Lockerbie station to work in Edinburgh and Glasgow due to the poor job opportunities there are locally, but passengers from the station face a poor service with few trains stopping at the station, no direct services to Edinburgh in the morning, ongoing delays, cancellations and overcrowding yet Mr Mundell thinks passengers should pay more for that pleasure.”

“Labour would take our rail companies back into public ownership to end these rip-off fares and deliver a people’s railway that puts passengers first.” 

Meanwhile Colin Smyth recently stepped up his campaign for better services from Lockerbie station. Just prior to the Christmas recess, the South Scotland MSP questioned Scottish Transport Minister Humza Yousaf on the issue in the Scottish Parliament.

Colin Smyth called on the Scottish Government to join him in lobbying the UK Government to increase services from Lockerbie. The rail franchise- which spells out the minimum level of service on the two routes that go through Lockerbie - is awarded by the UK Government who have the power to demand certain services.

The call came as a new timetable from Transpennine Express introduced just before Christmas failed to provide a direct early morning service to Edinburgh and continues or any services from Lockerbie to Edinburgh between 10am and 2.30pm despite. The local MSP also received a growing number of complaints from passengers about overcrowding on services in the run up to Christmas.

Speaking in the Scottish Parliament Colin Smyth asked the Transport Minister, “When the Minister next meets the UK Government Secretary of State for Transport, will he raise the concerns of the hundreds of thousands of passengers who now use Lockerbie station in the south of Scotland every year. As a direct result of the United Kingdom Government's current franchise and delays in awarding new franchises, those passengers from Lockerbie see more trains pass through the station than actually stop there. They still do not have a direct early-morning service to Edinburgh, there are no services to the capital between 10 am and 2.30 pm, they regularly suffer from overcrowding and they even find themselves banned from booking seats from Lockerbie to Edinburgh during busy periods. Will the minister raise the plight of those passengers and fight for extra services from Lockerbie station?”

In response, Transport Minister Humza Yousaf said, “The member raises a good point. Just as a bit of context, it is probably worth noting that, as the member alludes to, cross-border franchises are specified and awarded by the UK Government's Department for Transport. We have generally a good relationship with the DFT and we look to input there where we can. I will certainly take the points that the member has raised, and if he wants to formalise them and add to them in terms of a future west coast partnership franchise, I will certainly take that up. Wherever we can make an input to strengthening those services, the member has an absolute guarantee and reassurance from me that we will make that case to the UK Government”.

Commenting after the Parliamentary exchange Colin Smyth added, “I am pleased the Scottish Government are prepared to support my campaign for better services from Lockerbie Station. Even if the services through the station are regulated by the UK Government, the station is still owned by Scotrail so the Scottish Government have a part to play in tackling the wholly inadequate services from Lockerbie”.

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