The planned closure of most railway station ticket offices in England was scrapped in a sensational U-turn today amid growing fears over accessibility, safety and security.
Controversial Plans to close the majority of ticket offices had been brought forward by train operators and their representative body the Rail Delivery Group (RDG).
Ticket offices at 974 stations could have been affected after train companies came up with the idea to cut costs amid the drop in revenue caused by the pandemic.
But passenger watchdogs Transport Focus and London TravelWatch both confirmed today that they had objected to all of the proposals to close ticket offices in England.
Unions and campaigners had claimed that the closures would lead to job losses and difficulties for passengers such as the elderly and disabled in paying for travel.
And Transport Secretary Mark Harper has now revealed that train operators have been asked to withdraw their closure proposals following public consultations.
The ticket office at Windsor & Eton Central railway station in Berkshire, pictured yesterday
Closed windows at the ticket office at London Waterloo station on Thursday, September 28
Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union general secretary Mick Lynch (third left) protests in London with rail workers on August 31 against the closure of station ticket offices
The RDG had said the plans were ‘designed to move staff out of ticket offices and onto station platforms and concourses to support better, face-to-face interactions’.
Q&A on station ticket offices: What were the plans and why have they been scrapped?
What were the proposals?
The Rail Delivery Group (RDG), which represents train operators, unveiled proposals in July to close nearly all ticket offices in England.
What has now been announced?
Transport Secretary Mark Harper said the Government had today asked train operators to withdraw their proposals.
Why has there been a U-turn?
Transport Secretary Mark Harper said the proposals to close ticket offices ‘did not meet the high thresholds’ of serving rail passengers.
It comes after watchdogs Transport Focus and London TravelWatch announced that they opposed every single planned closure due to issues such as the impact on accessibility.
Which ticket offices were are at risk?
Ticket offices at 974 stations could have been affected by the plans.
How many stations have ticket offices?
There are 1,766 railway stations in England run by train operators controlled by the Department for Transport. Of these, 43 per cent operate without a ticket office, 40 per cent have ticket offices staffed part-time and 17 per cent full-time.
The 57 per cent with ticket offices equates to 1,007 stations.
Why were closures being proposed?
The RDG said it wanted to modernise customer service, while the industry has also been facing pressure to make savings after the Government bailed it out by more than £15billion during the pandemic due to a collapse in demand.
What proportion of tickets are bought from offices?
The RDG said the figure had fallen from 24 per cent in 2019 to 12 per cent last year.
What would have happened to ticket office staff under the plans?
The RDG had said they would be moved on to station platforms and concourses. It had claimed this would create a ‘more visible and accessible staff presence’.
How would passengers who normally buy tickets from offices have paid for travel?
The RDG said 99 per cent of transactions made at offices last year can be made at ticket machines or online.
It had added that as part of the changes, ticket machines would be upgraded and many staff would have handheld devices.
What will happen now?
The Government has said it now expects train operators to withdraw the proposals.
But the proposals sparked fierce criticism from opposition politicians, trade unions, disability groups and public transport campaigners.
Concerns were raised about the impact on accessibility, safety and security, difficulties using ticket machines and how stations will be staffed in future.
Following today’s announcement that the closures had been axed, a train operator source said: ‘There is quiet fury in the rail industry about where we’ve got to. The plan was signed off by civil servants and ministers. They’ve U-turned.’
Mr Harper said: ‘The consultation on ticket offices has now ended, with the Government making clear to the rail industry throughout the process that any resulting proposals must meet a high threshold of serving passengers.
‘We have engaged with accessibility groups throughout this process and listened carefully to passengers as well as my colleagues in Parliament. The proposals that have resulted from this process do not meet the high thresholds set by Ministers, and so the Government has asked train operators to withdraw their proposals.
‘We will continue our work to reform our railways with the expansion of contactless Pay As You Go ticketing, making stations more accessible through our Access for All programme and £350million funding through our Network North plan to improve accessibility at up to 100 stations.’
More than 680,000 responses were submitted to consultations on the closures.
Transport Focus and London TravelWatch were required to review each proposal to close a ticket office based on criteria relating to customer service, accessibility and cost-effectiveness, before deciding whether or not to object.
Transport Focus chief executive Anthony Smith said: ‘Following analysis of the 750,000 responses to the consultation and in-depth discussions with train companies Transport Focus is objecting to the proposals to close ticket offices.
‘Significant amendments and changes have been secured by the watchdog – for example, reverting to existing times when staff will be on hand at many stations. Some train companies were closer than others in meeting our criteria.
‘However, serious overall concerns remain about how potentially useful innovations, such as ‘welcome points’ would work in practice. We also have questions about how the impact of these changes would be measured and how future consultation on staffing levels will work.
‘Some train companies were unable to convince us about their ability to sell a full range of tickets, handle cash payments and avoid excessive queues at ticket machines.
‘Passengers must be confident they can get help when needed and buy the right ticket in time for the right train.’
There are 1,766 railway stations in England run by train operators controlled by the Department for Transport.
Of these, 43 per cent operate without a ticket office, 40 per cent have ticket offices staffed part-time and 17 per cent full-time.
Ministers and rail bosses had said the closures were needed to make savings after the industry was bailed out by more than £15billion during the pandemic.
They pointed out that only around 12 per cent of fares are bought from a ticket office, with most opting to buy online.
A closed ticket office at Datchet railway station in Berkshire is seen on Wednesday, October 25
A closed ticket office at Slough railway station in Berkshire is pictured on September 1
Michael Roberts, chief executive of London TravelWatch, said: ‘The way many passengers buy tickets is changing and so we understand the need to adapt and change with the times.
Which ticket offices were under threat?
Ticket offices at 974 stations could have been affected by the plans. There are 1,766 railway stations in England run by train operators controlled by the Department for Transport. Of these, 43 per cent operate without a ticket office, 40 per cent have ticket offices staffed part-time and 17 per cent full-time.
Operators had been taking different approaches to the closures:
Avanti West Coast, which runs services on the West Coast Main Line, had said it proposed to close ‘all ticket office windows at stations’.
That included those at major stations such as London Euston, Birmingham New Street and Manchester Piccadilly.
The company also planned to close its ticket office at Glasgow Central.
London North Eastern Railway, which operates services on the East Coast Main Line, had said it planned to close facilities at Berwick-upon-Tweed, Darlington, Durham, Grantham, Newark Northgate, Retford and Wakefield Westgate. It wanted to retain ticket offices at Newcastle, York, Doncaster, Peterborough and London King’s Cross.
South Western Railway had said it wanted to bring staff ‘out of the ticket offices and into the stations’, including at London Waterloo, the UK’s busiest station.
Great Western Railway was proposing to close ticket offices at a number of stations including London Paddington, Bristol Temple Meads, Oxford and Reading.
Operator Northern said it planned to close ticket offices at 131 stations and make changes to ticket office hours at 18 stations.
Southeastern said it wanted to replace ticket offices with ‘travel centres’ at 14 of its busiest stations, such as London Bridge.
‘But the key question for us is whether there is evidence to show that these proposals to close ticket offices represent a genuine improvement for passengers.
‘The three big issues for the public arising from the consultation were how to buy tickets in future, how to get travel advice and information at stations, and how Disabled passengers can get assistance when they need it.
‘Despite improving on their original proposals, we don’t think the train companies have gone far enough.
‘We cannot say with confidence that these proposals would improve things for passengers and that is why we have objected to all 269 ticket office closures.’
A spokesman for train drivers’ union Aslef said today: ‘Thanks to everyone who campaigned to #SaveOurTicketOffices against these unachievable and unnecessary proposals by the government. We will not accept the managed decline of our railway.’
And a spokesman for the TSSA union said: ‘Excellent news. Train companies need to take this as the final nail in the coffin for these unpopular plans.’
The Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union added: ‘We’ve said all along that people prefer people. Thank you to all the members of the public, disability campaigners, passenger groups and MPs and Councillors who supported the @RMTunion campaign to #SaveTicketOffices.’
Last week, the Commons’ Transport Select Committee wrote to rail minister Huw Merriman, warning that the proposals ‘go too far, too fast, towards a situation that risks excluding some passengers from the railway’.
The committee expressed its concern in particular about how office closures would impact on disabled passengers.
In the letter, dated October 20 and signed by Conservative MP and committee chair Iain Stewart, MPs also express concern about the ‘unacceptable’ lack of information about the proposals from operators, the RDG and the Department for Transport.
On October 6, two disabled rail passengers applied for a judicial review of the consultation.
Sarah Leadbetter from Leicestershire, who is registered blind, and Doug Paulley, a wheelchair user from West Yorkshire who has hearing loss, said the consultation was unfair because it did not give people the opportunity to meaningfully respond to the proposals.
There were plans to close the vast majority of station ticket offices in England, plus Avanti West Coast’s ticket office at Glasgow Central (where campaigners are pictured in July)
Customers at the ticket office at London Marylebone in 2019. The RDG said the proportion of tickets bought from offices had fallen from 24 per cent in 2019 to 12 per cent last year
The consultation was originally opened in July for 21 days but was extended to September 1 after a huge response from the public.
Ms Leadbetter and Mr Paulley claimed the consultation had ‘multiple, serious flaws’ including failure to provide disabled people with enough information about how the changes will affect them and to provide accessible consultation documents.
But train operating companies denied that the consultation was inadequate and argued that they did provide consultation material in accessible formats.
On September 10, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak suggested that the proposed mass closure of ticket offices was ‘the right thing for the British public’.