Chris Grayling 'running scared' in Middle East as rail commuters hit by biggest fares rise in years
Chris Grayling has been accused of "running scared" after it emerged his visit to the Middle East will prevent him explaining eye-watering rail fare rises until Friday.
The Transport Secretary is in Qatar for a two-day trip as ticket costs rise by 3.4% on average and some commuters see their season passes hiked by around £100 - the biggest rise since 2013.
Downing Street confirmed this morning he would be heading to Turkey on Thursday, meaning he will not be in the country to answer questions until the end of the week.
But a spokesperson for the Prime Minister insisted Mr Grayling was “working hard and doing a good job” - despite rumours he is in line for the chop in an expected Cabinet reshuffle this month.
Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald blasted: "The Secretary of State for Transport’s failure to publicly explain to rail passengers why they are being hit with crushing fare increases today smacks of a man running scared.
"Passengers and taxpayers deserve better than a failing Transport Secretary who refuses to defend his track record."
And Liberal Democrat leader 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.”
Downing Street said: "Chris Grayling is working hard and doing a good job as Transport Secretary."
The spokesperson added: “But we understand people are concerned about increases in the cost of rail tickets and the cost of living and we are taking action in those areas.”
The Department for Transport said the meetings with Qatari ministers and business leaders would serve to "promote the UK overseas, support British jobs and strengthen the important relationship between the two countries".
A spokesperson added: "This trip has been specifically arranged to take place outside of Parliamentary time. The Secretary of State has repeatedly answered questions on this issue, ever since fare increases were first announced by the industry in August.”
No 10 was meanwhile unable to say whether any other transport ministers were at work or why they had failed to come forward to explain the annual ticket hike in line with RPI inflation.
'NOT A BAILOUT'
Meanwhile, Downing Street rejected the suggestion by Labour and former infrastructure advisor Lord Adonis that train firms unable to fulfil their public contracts were getting a multimillion pound “bailout”.
Ministers announced last month they would be intervening on the East Coast rail franchise and terminating the contract held by Stagecoach and Virgin years ahead of schedule.
But No 10 said: “We have been very clear that no one is getting a bailout... Any suggestion the taxpayer will be out of pocket is completely wrong.”