A RAIL user group says passengers could be forced off trains and into cars due to fare increases.

It was revealed on Tuesday that rail passengers will be hit by the largest fares hike in five years from January 2, with the average ticket price rising by 3.4 per cent.

TransPennine Express, which operates services in York and North Yorkshire, is set to implement the highest increase at 4.6 per cent.

Terry French, secretary of Selby And District Rail Users Group, said rail users had been targeted again by the fare increases.

He said: “The increases always seem to be more than increases in wages. I think commuters have been hit a lot over at least the last five or 10 years. What I’m worried about is people’s disposable incomes are going down and they’re feeling the pinch.

“We’re unhappy with the rise and we can understand that passengers will be upset and frustrated. The fare payers are being asked to pay more and more every year but still waiting for improvements to services, stations, new rolling stock and still quite often experiencing serious overcrowding.”

TransPennine Express said the increase followed a two-year price freeze on some of its most popular advance fares, but Mr French said the latest price increase could lead to “a definite danger people will look at alternatives like getting back in their cars”.

Stagecoach has not ruled out bidding for the same loss-making East Coast rail franchise that sparked controversy last week after the Government said it would end the existing contract three years early.

Stagecoach and Virgin together agreed to pay the Government £3.3 billion to run the service until 2023, but last week the Department of Transport confirmed plans to end the franchise contract three years early.

Meanwhile, it was announced yesterday that Stagecoach had not ruled out bidding for the loss-making East Coast franchise - which it runs with Virgin - which will come back up to tender in 2020, three years earlier than the previously agreed period.

Stagecoach and Virgin had together agreed to pay the Government £3.3 billion to run the service until 2023, but last week the Department for Transport confirmed controversial plans to prematurely end the franchise contract in 2020.

There were concerns that the two companies were considering pulling out of the deal for financial reasons, which is what National Express did in 2009.

Stagecoach was forced to take on a one-off charge of £84 million earlier this year due to “anticipated losses” over the next two years under the “onerous contract”.

The suggestion means Stagecoach - which this week reported an eight per cent jump in half-year pre-tax profits, hitting £96.7 million, up from £89.5 million - could potentially be granted the same franchise under different terms if it decides to bid. The company maintained its full-year targets, but said UK rail profits would be “modest” over the second half of the financial year.