Chris Grayling accused of being ‘in hiding’ over rail fare rises
Labour has accused Chris Grayling of going “into hiding” on the day the biggest increase to rail fares since 2013 comes into effect.
The transport secretary is in Qatar, in the Middle East, for a two-day visit to promote British trade.
Protests are taking place at 40 stations, as average rail ticket prices rise by 3.4% across the UK.
Mr Grayling’s department said he had “repeatedly” answered questions on the rise since it was announced in August.
And Downing Street said “we’ve known [the fare rises] were coming for a while” and a full response had been issued.
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But Labour’s shadow transport minister Andy McDonald said that Mr Grayling had gone “into hiding” because he was “unable to defend” the fare hike, and he was also “refusing to explain the £2bn taxpayer bailout of Virgin East Coast”.
“Passengers deserve better than this,” he added.
Mr McDonald said he had been forced to cancel plans to take part in a protest against the rail fare in Leeds after his train from London Kings Cross broke down.
“If anything ever demonstrated just how broken this system is it’s this today,” he said.
Mr Grayling’s visit to Qatar will be followed by a day in Turkey later this week.
Asked about the purpose of the visit, the prime minister’s official spokesman said: “There are ministers visiting a whole host of countries spreading the message that Britain is a very good place to invest and to do business in. Chris Grayling obviously plays an important part in that.”
A government spokesman said the way fares were calculated was “under review” and the transport department “carefully monitors how rail fares and average earnings change”.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Transport said Mr Grayling’s overseas trip had been specifically scheduled while Parliament was in recess.
“The secretary of state has repeatedly answered questions on this issue, ever since fare increases were first announced by the industry in August,” she said.
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable said: “Rail passengers are shivering on platforms angered by the biggest fare increase in years while Chris Grayling is off globetrotting.
“It’s very difficult to see what useful function he can perform in Qatar and Turkey that our excellent trade officials could not.”
Mick Cash, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, said passengers forking out more for train travel will “draw their own conclusions” from Mr Grayling’s decision to take a “trip to the Qatari sunshine”.
Mr Grayling is one of a number of ministers mentioned in press speculation over the weekend about a possible cabinet reshuffle.
Asked whether he would remain transport secretary for the foreseeable future, the PM’s spokesman said: “Chris Grayling is working hard and doing a good job as transport secretary.”