RAIL fares will soar by 4.9 per cent in March.

The move, announced by the Department for Transport, has been condemned locally and by national union leaders.

Tim Calow, chair of the Aire Valley Rail Users Group, says: "Given the poor standard of service, any increase in fares seems wrong.

"Industrial action goes on, and levels of cancellations and delays are unacceptable, however fares continue to rise.

"All the train companies are struggling under close Government control."

Transport and travel industry union TSSA says the increase will hit passengers hard.

TSSA has thousands of members across the UK and Ireland, working for the railways and associated companies, as well as ferries, bus services and the travel trade.

Its general secretary, Maryam Eslamdoust, says: "This fare rise is going to hit passengers hard in the pocket.

"We remain in a cost-of-living crisis and whatever spin the Conservative Government tries to put on this announcement, the only winners will again be the profiteering rail companies.

"The Government should have given workers the new year present we all want and issued a rail fares freeze, which would help grow the economy and encourage people to use our trains – the greenest form of mass transport."

But the Government defends the increase, which will take effect on March 3.

It says the figure is down compared to the previous cap on regulated fares increases, of 5.9 per cent.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper said: "Having met our target of halving inflation across the economy, this is a significant intervention by the Government to cap the increase in rail fares below the previous year’s rise.

"Changed working patterns after the pandemic mean that our railways are still losing money and require significant subsidies, so this rise strikes a balance to keep our railways running, while not overburdening passengers.

"We remain committed to supporting the rail sector to reform outdated working practices and help put it on a sustainable financial footing."

A Department for Transport spokesperson adds: "Passengers won't see any changes in their fares until March 3, giving them more time to purchase season tickets at the current rate and keeping fares as low as possible for longer. Fare changes will now take place in March every year moving forward.

"Also, the regulated fare cap in England is significantly lower than in Scotland, where rail fares are set to increase by 8.7 per cent from April."