RAIL commuters will today face their biggest increase in fares in five years.

The news come as a new study out today says rail commuters are spending up to five times as much of their salary on season tickets as passengers on the continent.

Fares go up by an average of 3.4 per cent today, the biggest increase since 2013, covering unregulated fares such as off-peak leisure tickets. Season tickets will go up by 3.6 per cent, sparking protests outside railway stations across the country.

Arriva Trains Wales prices will increase by 3.3 per cent and Great Western Railways fares will increase by 3.1 per cent.

The TUC said workers travelling from Chelmsford in Essex to London will have to pay 13 per cent of their salary for a £381 monthly season ticket.

That compares with 2 per cent for a comparable commute of around 30 miles in France (£66), 3 per cent in Italy (£65), 4 per cent in Germany (£118) as well as 5 per cent in Spain (£108) and Belgium (£144).

Season tickets will increase a third faster than wages in 2018, said the TUC.

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "Another year, another price increase. Many commuters will look with envy to their continental cousins, who enjoy reasonably priced journeys to work.

"Employers can help out by offering zero-interest season ticket loans, or offering more flexible work hours and locations.

"But ultimately the Government need to take our railways back into public hands. "

Mick Whelan, leader of the train drivers' union Aslef said these fare rises hurt the communities and industries that they should be supporting.

"This is without even counting the scandalous cost of parking at certain stations," Mr Whelan said.

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."

What do you think of the increase? Leave a comment below.

TEN questions about the price hike

How much have fares gone up by?

The average increase is 3.4 per cent.

How does this compare with previous years?

It is the biggest rise since 2013. Fares went up by 2.3 per cent last year.

Who pays for the railways?

It has been the policy of successive governments to reduce the funding of the railways by taxpayers and increase the relative contribution of passengers.

Who decides fare increases?

Regulated fare rises are set by the Government, which uses the Retail Prices Index inflation measure from the previous July (3.6 per cent in 2017). This applies to around half of tickets and includes season tickets.

What about other tickets?

They are set by the operators.

Where does the money go?

The Rail Delivery Group says profit margins for rail firms are around 3 per cent, with the majority of revenue spent on investment in the network (26 per cent), staffing (25 per cent) and maintenance (22 per cent).

What improvements are being made?

The Department for Transport says it is investing in the biggest modernisation of the network since Victorian times, with major projects to provide faster and better trains with more seats.

What do passenger groups say?

They claim fare rises are pricing people off the railways because wages are not increasing at the same rate.

What impact are fare rises having on demand?

Passenger numbers have more than doubled since the network was privatised in the mid-1990s. But latest figures from the Office of Rail and Road show that passenger journeys fell by 0.4 per cent between July and September compared with the same period in 2016.

Season ticket use fell by 9.4 per cent to its lowest level since 2010.

Is there any way of avoiding the fare rise?

Many savvy commuters renewed their season tickets in the days before the annual rise, meaning they are paying last year's prices. Passengers can also save money by getting a railcard, travelling off-peak and booking in advance, although these options are not available for many journeys, particularly by commuters.