Commuters in England will see their season ticket costs rise by 3.6% next year, the highest hike in five years.

The Retail Prices Index (RPI) measure of inflation over the year to July was 3.6%, the Office for National Statistics announced today, while the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) measure of inflation was 2.6%.

This means the price of regulated rail fares will rise by 3.6% in January 2018, as under Government rules, train fares can only rise in line with the previous July's RPI.

The 3.6% rise from next January only applies to regulated tickets though, which includes season tickets, day single and return tickets around major cities and long distance off-peak return tickets. This accounts for about half of all tickets.

Unregulated fares, such as off-peak leisure tickets and first-class tickets, are set by the train companies, not the Government.

This year the rise was capped at 1.9% (using the July 2016 RPI rate), the previous year it was 1%, and the year before that 2.5%.

Will you be hit by the hike? Check our Cheaper Train Season Tickets guide.

What about rail fares in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales?

Rail fares are a devolved matter in the UK, so here's what's happening elsewhere:

  • Northern Ireland: Today's news doesn't affect rail fares in Northern Ireland as there July's RPI isn't used to calculate price changes.

  • Scotland: The July RPI figure is used to determine the rate of increase in regulated fares on ScotRail services. So regulated peak fares will increase by up to 3.6% from January 2017, while regulated off-peak fares will rise up to 2.6% under the formula RPI minus 1%.

  • Wales: Regulated fare increases will be capped at the 3.6% RPI rate.

'Passengers deserve a fairer deal'

Today's announcement has led to many calling for a change in the way annual fare increases are calculated.

David Sidebottom, director of independent watchdog Transport Focus, said: "Yet again, passengers, now majority funders of the railway, face fare rises next January.

"Commuters do not give value for money on their railways a high satisfaction score – just one third according to our latest survey. So while performance remains patchy and with pay and wages not keeping pace with inflation, they will feel rightly aggrieved if they are paying much higher rises next January.

"Why is the Government not using its preferred measure of inflation: the one that is used to determine wages and pension increases, and one which is often lower than RPI? Why not use the Consumer Prices Index for rail fares too? Passengers deserve a fairer deal."

The Office for National Statistics, which released today's figures, also said RPI is not a good measure and doesn't recommend it being used.

Paul Plummer, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group, which represents train companies, said: "Money from fares pays to run and improve the railway, making journeys better, boosting the economy, creating skilled jobs and supporting communities across Britain, and politicians set increases to season tickets. It's also the case that many major rail industry costs rise directly in line with RPI."

Commuter train fares to rise by 3.6%

Save money on train fares

Here are some of our top tips to help you battle rising rail costs – see our Cheap Trains and Season Ticket guides for more:

  • Buy in advance. Most train companies put tickets on sale about 12 weeks ahead. So the earlier you book, the more chance you have of getting one of their cheap advance tickets.
  • Two singles can beat a return. If you're going on a return journey, check if two singles are cheaper. It may not always be the case, but it's worth a try.
  • Get a railcard. Frequent travellers should consider a railcard, if they qualify for one. Those aged 16-25, the over-60s, those with disabilities and adults who travel with kids may all qualify. Most railcards cost £30 a year (£20 for a disabled person) and get the holder a third off many fares. See our Railcard Deals page.
  • Split your ticket. Imagine you're travelling from London to Sheffield. If the train stops at Derby, check whether it's cheaper to buy a ticket from London to Derby and a second ticket from Derby to Sheffield. It's perfectly legal as long as the train stops at that intermediate station. Use our free TicketySplit tool to find out if you can get a cheaper walk-on single fare by breaking down your journey.

  • Look for hidden promos. Lots of train companies have hidden promotions buried on their websites – which you won't find if you're going through a ticket booking website. For a full list of hidden promos, see our Cheap Train Deals page.