LOCAL rail users returning to work after the New Year have been hit by some of the biggest ticket price rises in the country.

Commuters on services between Bolton, Manchester, Preston and Wigan have been affected by Northern Rail price hikes of 4.7 per cent.

The average train fare across Britain went up by 3.4 per cent yesterday.

The increase comes at the end of a year when trains in the area have been disrupted by engineering works, strikes and the closure of Bolton railway station for more than two weeks.

MP David Crausby branded the increases 'unjustified' and said services can't be relied on. Bolton Rail Users Group said it is 'disappointed' that passengers will now be paying more.

Northern said it is 'transforming local rail' and fares are an important part of making this happen.

The ticket that has had the biggest price increase is an off-peak return from Bromley Cross, which is going up by 6.8 per cent from £5.90 to £6.30.

An anytime return between Bolton and Manchester has gone up by 3.1 per cent from £6.40 to £6.60 and an off-peak return between the town and Manchester has gone up by 3.7 per cent from £5.40 to £5.60.

An annual season ticket between Bolton and Manchester has increased by 2.8 per cent from £988 to £1,024.

Work is currently taking place to electrify the line between Manchester and Preston, which will allow for more services and faster trains by 2020.

For this to take place, Bolton station was closed for a fortnight in August and train services haven't run through the town on a number of occasions.

A burst water main at Moses Gate led to further disruption as the line had to be closed.

Three more strike days are planned by staff at Northern Rail as part of an ongoing row over driver-only trains.

Sir David Crausby, MP for Bolton North East has labelled the increases as 'dramatic' and said it is unjustified when the local service is 'so poor'.

He said: "When so many people are struggling with the cost of living we should not be seeing such high increases in the cost of public transport. As people return to work or university this morning after the Christmas break they will rightly wonder why they should have to pay more money for a service they can’t depend on. We need a transport system that puts passengers first.”

Towards the end of last year peak morning trains between Bromley Cross and Manchester ran with just two carriages and people were left stranded on platforms and crowded together.

Responding to the increase, Jeff Davies from Bolton Rail, said: "Obviously we are disappointed at these increases, especially that they are ahead of inflation and that some fares seem to have been increased greater than others.

"This whole process is done by the Department of Transport on behalf of the Government who control the majority of the fares."

He added that it is Government policy to put more of the cost on rail users rather than the tax payer.

A spokesman for Northern said: “Northern’s average annual fare increase is 4.7 per cent, which means an average season ticket will rise by 90 pence per week (based on the average season ticket costing £50.10 per week) and the average increase for Northern’s off peak and peak returns will be 30 pence per ticket.

“Northern is delivering new trains, improved trains, better stations and more services to transform local rail for current and future customers in the North by 2020. Fares are an important factor in enabling the investment that will make this happen and ensure the railway continues to support our customers, communities and the regional economy."

Other fare increases include an anytime return from Bolton to Preston going up by 3.3 per cent from £11.90 to £12.30 and an anytime return from Bolton to Wigan going up by 3.2 per cent from £6.20 and £6.40.