Video report by ITV News Correspondent Chris Choi
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has dismissed calls for a freeze on rail fares, as it emerged the prices of many tickets are likely to increase by 3.2% next year.
His comments came as the Office for National Statistics announced the July Retail Price Index, which is used to determine the cap on annual fare rises.
Speaking to ITV News, Mr Grayling refused to say there would be a freeze, but confirmed that the cap would be at 3.2% from 1 January.
"No fare rise has been announced, today's announcement is the cap put on fares from next January," the Epsom and Ewell MP explained, adding that he does "not set fares" and that it is the decision of train companies whether or not to raise their ticket prices.
Should they choose to, companies could decide to keep their prices the same.
The likely increase could see some long-distance commuters hit with a price hike of more than £330.
Around 40% of fares are expected to rise by 3.2% in January, including season tickets on most commuter routes, some off-peak return tickets on long-distance journeys and Anytime tickets around major cities.
The price of these fares is controlled by the Government who set the cap, the prices of other tickets are decided by train companies.
The Government uses the July Retail Price Index (RPI) measure of inflation – announced by the Office for National Statistics on Wednesday – to determine the cap on the annual increase.
When questioned by ITV News Consumer Editor Chris Choi whether a summer beset by delays and cancellations across a number of rail routes could merit a potential price rise in January, Mr Grayling conceded that recent services had been "unacceptable" and he was "hugely frustrated" by it all, but cautioned that introducing a freeze on ticket price increases would only result in "cuts in investment".
He added that "a fares freeze either means an increase in taxation or it means service cuts".
Instead, Mr Grayling suggested linking future fare increases to the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which at 2.5% in July, was significantly lower than the RPI of 3.2%.
Doing so would lower price rises and ensure that the "rail industry and rail staff are treated the same as everybody else," Mr Grayling said, but added that "the unions' position appears to be 'we want bigger pay rises for our members and we want passengers to pay for them'".
In response, union leaders accused him of trying to cap pay rises in the industry and blame workers for rising ticket prices.
Amid anger over the likely increase in fares, the Rail Delivery Group said 98p of every pound spent on train fares is invested back into the railway.
However, consumer groups claim fare rises are pricing people off the railways because wages are not increasing at the same rate.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn branded the planned price rises "an insult to everyone who has suffered from the chaos on Britain’s railways".
Rail, Maritime and Transport union General Secretary Mick Cash described the increase as a "kick in the teeth" for "passengers already furious at the shocking level of service on Britain's rip-off privatised railways".
He added that the decision to increase fares would "come back to haunt both the Tory Government and the train companies alike...
"If it wasn't for the profiteering and exploitation that is endemic after more than two decades of rail privatisation, we would have enough cash in the pot to invest in staffing and infrastructure and hold down fares at the same time.
"What will really stick in the throat of the long-suffering British public is the fact that three-quarters of our train services are now controlled by overseas operators, with the profits from today's fare rises shipped across the channel to subsidise passengers in Berlin, Paris and Amsterdam."
Mr Cash also called for the renationalisation of rail services.
GMB General Secretary Tim Roache added that the price rise would be "a grim start to the new year" for commuters "when they are forced to pay even more extortionate prices for a frankly shocking service from the privatised rail companies.
"Rising travel costs, effectively a commuter tax, place an intolerable burden on working people, especially when wage rates don't keep pace.
"The annual price hike seems to be the only part of the privatised railway that always runs as scheduled."
Is there any way to avoid the price hikes?
Savvy commuters who renew their season tickets in the days before the annual rise will pay the 2018 price, rather than the increased one for 2019.
Passengers can also save money by getting a railcard, travelling off-peak and booking in advance, although these options are not available for many journeys, particularly by commuters.
Which train season tickets are likely to rise the most from 2018 to 2019?
Birmingham to London - £10,564 to £10,902, an increase of £338
Coventry to London Euston - £9,340 to £9,639, an increase of £299
Swindon to London - £8,740 to £9,020, an increase of £280
Norwich to London - £8,164 to £8,425, an increase of £261
Rugby to London via Virgin Trains - £8,124 to £8,384, an increase of £260
Corby to London - £8,084 to £8,343, an increase of £259
Stoke-on-Trent to Milton Keynes Central - £7,320 to £7,554, an increase of £234
Ipswich to London - £6,548 to £6,758, an increase of £210
Dover Priory to London via HS1 - £6,544 to £6,753, an increase of £209
Peterborough to London via Great Northern - £6,540 to £6,749, an increase of £209
Hastings or Rye to London St Pancras via HS1 - £6,492 to £6,700, an increase of £208
Carlisle to Preston - £6,060 to £6,254, an increase of £194
Southampton Central to London Waterloo - £5,700 to £5,882, an increase of £182
Northampton to London - £5,604 to £5,783, an increase of £179
Dover Priory to London not via HS1 - £5,512 to £5,688, an increase of £176
Exeter St David to Bristol Temple Meads - £5,260 to £5,428 an increase of £168
Milton Keynes to London - £5,208 to £5,375, an increase of £167
Hastings or Rye to London not via HS1 - £5,200 to £5,366, an increase of £166
Chatham to London via HS1 - £5,168 to £5,333, an increase of £165
Oxford to London Paddington - £5,096 to £5,259 an increase of £163