PROTESTERS have called on rail bosses to “cut fares not guards” as passengers face the largest fare increase in five years.

Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union members gathered at Brighton Station this morning holding placards and handing out chocolates to “sweeten the bitter pill” of the price rise.

On average, ticket prices across the UK have seen a 3.4 per cent hike, with protests also being held at several other train stations in the country.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “While the British passenger is being bled dry, the same private companies who are coining it in are axing safety-critical staff and slashing security on our trains and stations in the name of even fatter profits.

“It’s a national scandal that private profit comes before public safety on our rail network.

“Even worse, with 75 per cent of Britain’s railways in overseas hands, it is the British people, paying the highest fares in Europe, who are subsidising state-run rail operations in Berlin, Paris and Amsterdam while the Tory government refuse to even consider the public ownership option in their own back yard.

“The answer to this racket is a full return to public ownership of Britain’s railways and an end to this gross profiteering at the fare-payers expense.”

Posters were also put up outside the station by Brighton Pavilion Labour Party, stating that “the Tories are failing to stand up for millions of passengers”.

The branch said it supports keeping guards on trains.

A new study undertaken by the union suggests that all of the money gained through the price hike will go straight into the “profit” of the privatised train operating companies.

The union denounces any suggestion by rail bosses that the money will fund investment in railways.

The Government uses last July's Retail Prices Index (RPI) measure of inflation to determine increases in regulated fares.

Half of all tickets on most commuter routes are affected by the fare increases.

A Department for Transport spokesman said: "We are investing in the biggest modernisation of our railways since the Victorian times to improve services for passengers -providing faster and better, more comfortable trains with extra seats.

"This includes the first trains running though London on the Crossrail project, an entirely new Thameslink rail service and continuing work on the transformative Great North Rail Project.

"We keep fare prices under constant review and the price rises for this year are capped in line with inflation, with 97p out of every £1 paid going back into the railway."