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CHRIS GRAYLING was accused of “going into hiding” yesterday after he jetted off to Qatar.
The Tory Transport Secretary’s flight to the Gulf meant he escaped the wrath of angry commuters on the day rail fares were raised yet again.
In rainy Blighty his Labour opposite number Andy McDonald was due to join protests against the fare rises in Leeds. But on his way from London the Virgin Trains East Coast service ground to a halt, prompting him to record a video message.
The shadow transport secretary hit out at the fare rises — the highest in five years — and the recent decision to end the East Coast franchise early, saving parent companies Virgin and Stagecoach billions of pounds in planned premiums.
“[The train has] run out of power, a bit like the Tories,” he quipped.
“But this is on the same line that’s had the benefit of a £2 billion payout the last few weeks, and of course it comes hot on the heels of an announcement they have a 3.6 per cent increase in fares.
“If anything has demonstrated just how broken the system is, it’s this today.”
The government said Mr Grayling had skedaddled to Qatar for meetings with officials there, but Mr McDonald said: “The Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has gone into hiding, unable to defend today’s 3.6 per cent fares hike and refusing to explain the £2bn taxpayer bailout of Virgin East Coast.”
RMT general secretary Mick Cash fumed: “Chris Grayling knew that the fares story would be top of the news agenda today. But instead of being available to defend his government’s Great Rail Rip-off he booked himself a winter escape to the Qatari sunshine.
“[Passengers] will draw their own conclusions from the Transport Secretary’s decision to book himself a trip to the desert rather than face the music.”
Mr Cash joined a demo outside King’s Cross station in London, where he handed out sweets branded with the union’s campaign to save train guards.
Across the capital at Paddington station, Labour youth activists joined the local RMT branch to leaflet commuters.
GMB activist and Labour Students vice-chair Lara McNeill told the Star: “Real wages are falling and rail fares are becoming a bigger and bigger percentage of young people’s earnings.”
Virgin declined to comment on Mr McDonald’s travel troubles.
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