A STOURBRIDGE rail pressure group has slammed price hikes which help the train put the strain on passengers' pockets.

The Stourbridge Line User Group (SLUG) says it is shocked and angry fares look set to rise by three per cent more than the RPI inflation rate in January.

A peak-time ticket from Stourbridge Junction to London can cost up to £166 and the average expected increase of 6.2 per cent could add a further £10.

SLUG Chairman, Rob Hebron, said: "The increase is unjustified and the formula is completely wrong.

"This is potentially a 'shoot yourselves in the foot' situation. Rail patronage is increasing and so is the new revenue stream.

"Higher fares on top of poorer service and de-staffed stations, is a step too far. The only people to gain will be the owners of petrol stations."

Government ministers argue the above inflation increases are needed to raise cash for improvements which will eventually make train travel cheaper.

Rail minister, Theresa Villiers MP, said: "In the longer term we are determined to get rid of these above-inflation fare rises all together."

"But in the meantime I'm afraid these fare rises are going to be necessary in order to help us deliver a rail investment programme at a time when public spending needs to be constrained."

However SLUG dismiss the minister's view and believe higher fares will drive passengers back into their cars.

Rob Hebron said: "The notion that the extra income will be reinvested in the West Midlands railway network is laughable. If we are not careful, the local railways will become the elitist way to travel.”

There was better news for beleaguered rail users on fares after an announcement the First Group will be taking over operation of the West Coast Main line, which links Scotland and London via Birmingham.

The company will replace Virgin Trains on the line in December and has promised to cut its standard anytime fares by 15 per cent in the first two years.