Delight as plans to close railway station ticket offices in Northumberland are scrapped
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Transport Secretary Mark Harper has announced today (Tuesday) that Government has asked train operators to withdraw their proposals.
In early July, the Rail Delivery Group announced that operators “across the country are launching passenger consultations to move staff from ticket offices and into stations”. The plans included closing the travel centres at Alnmouth, Berwick and Morpeth.
The consultation deadline was extended to September 1 and independent watchdog Transport Focus, together with London TravelWatch, received 750,000 responses – the vast majority of which “contained powerful and passionate concerns about the potential changes”. Both watchdogs objected to the proposals.
Mr Harper’s statement included the following: “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.”
Those delighted with the announcement include Georgina Hill, Northumberland County councillor for Berwick East and rail campaigner.
She said: “This u-turn is excellent news and tribute to all those who campaigned against the mean, cost-cutting measure to close the ticket office at Berwick and stations across the country.
“This has come about because the Government have been well and truly spooked by the huge public opposition.
“It has not come about through any great principled stand on their part, so we must continue to fight to protect our ticket offices, the staff at our stations and for other rail improvements.”
Berwick North county councillor Catherine Seymour said: “This is a sensational victory and common sense has prevailed.
“Well done to all those that have put strong pressure on to save our Berwick ticket office from closure as there has been a major public backlash against the proposals.”
County council leader Glen Sanderson said: “I am so pleased that sense has prevailed and that the views of the public and campaigners have been listened to.
“Our rural rail networks are extremely busy and the ticket offices play a vital role in making rail travel accessible to all, especially those people who cannot access online ticketing or use automated machines.
“Not everyone has a credit card. Not everyone has a computer. The proposals to close the ticket offices would have particularly affected the ability for those on low incomes and the elderly and the vulnerable to travel by rail.”
Dennis Fancett, chairman of the South East Northumberland Rail User Group, said: “The proposals that have been scrapped today had involved reducing the hours per week in which Morpeth and Alnmouth stations are staffed by 46% and 38% respectively. These are inter-city stations serving destination such as London, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Aberdeen and Penzance.
“It’s not just about buying tickets – choosing from the bewildering array of different options and protecting people that can’t use cards or apps – important though that is. Stations need to be staffed.
“The disruption we are seeing right now at Morpeth due to the Plessey Viaduct works, with many services cancelled or not stopping and a bus replacement programme in place, provides the evidence that we need uniformed, staffed presence at designated points at railway stations to tell customers what to do.
“It's not as if things never go wrong on the railway. They do, and staff are needed to help, advise, and, most importantly, report back to their management what is happening on the ground.
“We are glad to see the back of these ill-considered proposals, but look forward to working constructively with rail company management to explore opportunities arising from the growth of online ticket purchasing for multi-skilling staff that do not involve reduction in their physical presence at the station or the ability to sell tickets in-person.
“Like many others, we feel certain these proposals did not come from the rail companies themselves, but from central government, which incidentally owns three of the five companies serving Northumberland stations. They were hugely unpopular and were never going to work, and someone, somewhere should have listened to feedback from those that understand the needs of railway passengers before they ever hit the light of day.”
Marc Stewart said: “I'm tremendously relieved by the Government's decision to abandon the railway ticket office closures. As the owner of Green’s Cafe at Morpeth Railway Station, this u-turn ensures that my business won’t face the disruptions we feared.
“The ticket office closure and proposed staffing reduction would have burdened Green’s staff with railway queries, jeopardising our service quality. It's a testament to community strength and the importance of maintaining essential services.
“I’m thankful to everyone who signed our petition and for the collective effort that has protected our local businesses, whilst safeguarding the jobs of the fantastic ticket office team and maintaining the welcoming atmosphere of Morpeth Railway Station.”
A spokesperson for Transport for the North said: “We are pleased that plans to close ticket offices are not being taken forward. As today’s report from Transport Focus clearly shows, withdrawing ticket office staff would leave passengers very disadvantaged and would be a barrier to people using the railway.
“The way that people buy their tickets is changing, and we need to take account of that, but the presence of staff is about so much more than simply retailing tickets. They are a human point of contact, including helping passengers who might need assistance or providing reassurance for those who might be wary of travelling alone.”
North of Tyne Mayor Jamie Driscoll said: “The Government have finally done the right thing by stopping the ticket office closures. It was a ludicrous idea from the start – excluding people with disabilities and leaving stations unstaffed and unsafe.
“Make no mistake, this u-turn is down to the hard work and organisation of trade unions and campaigners, especially disability activists, and I was proud to campaign with them.
“It’s a clear message that public services must be run on the basis of long-term need, not short-term greed.”
Louise Rubin, head of policy at disability equality charity Scope, said: “This is a victory for the hundreds of thousands of disabled people who called out the absurdity of closing ticket offices.
“These plans made no sense in the context of our inaccessible rail network and would have resulted in more people being stranded without the support they need.”
Jacqueline Starr, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group, said: “Train companies committed to a genuine consultation and worked closely with passenger bodies to build and improve on the original plans.
“We thank everybody who participated and for helping to make our proposals better, and welcome the recognition by Transport Focus that the principle of moving staff to where they can better help passengers is the right one.
“These proposals were about adapting the railway to the changing needs of customers in the smartphone era, balanced against the significant financial challenge faced by the industry as it recovers from the (Covid-19) pandemic.
“At a time when the use of ticket offices is irreversibly declining, we also want to give our people more enriching and rewarding careers geared towards giving passengers more visible face-to-face support.
“While these plans won’t now be taken forward, we will continue to look at other ways to improve passenger experience while delivering value for the taxpayer. Our priority remains to secure a vibrant long-term future for the industry and all those who work in it.”