PROTESTS will be held across Scotland today in response to the largest rail fare rise in five years as workers go back to work.

Average ticket prices across Britain went up by 3.4 per cent yesterday.

Protests were held outside around 40 stations to mark the biggest increase since 2013.

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union handed out chocolates to “sweeten the bitter pill” of the price increase.

Today, protests will be held in Edinburgh, North Berwick and Dunbar – with plans to hold a demonstration in Glasgow later on in the week.

Paul Plummer, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group which represents train operators, said “nobody wants to see fares going up” but insisted the increase is necessary to improve the network.

He said: “All we can do is make sure we invest to improve as fast as we possibly can. We’ve had decades of under-investment which we are now addressing and have been consistently over the last few years, but it takes time.

“We need that money from fares to be able to afford that investment.”

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling was out of the country as the fare increases hit – on a two-day visit to Qatar, where he was meeting members of the Gulf state’s government, including the prime minister, as well as chief executives of the Qatar Investment Authority and Qatar Airways.

Yesterday, Mick Cash, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, said: “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 trip to the Qatari sunshine.

“While millions of passengers are taking a financial hit as they battle their way back to work in the cold and the rain today they will draw their own conclusions from the Transport Secretary’s decision to book himself a trip to the desert.” Asked about the purpose of Mr Grayling’s visit to Qatar, which will be followed by a day in Turkey later this week, the PM’s spokesman told reporters: “There are ministers visiting a whole host of countries spreading the message that Britain is a very good place to invest and to do business in.

“Chris Grayling obviously plays an important part in that.”