Alnmouth railway station ticket office earmarked for closure
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The Rail Delivery Group confirmed that operators across the country ‘are launching passenger consultations to move staff from ticket offices and into stations’.
Tricia Williams, chief operating officer at Northern, which manages Alnmouth and Morpeth stations, said: “Across all business sectors the way people consume, access and purchase products and services has changed."
“One in six journeys on Northern services are purchased through a ticket office. This compares to almost half of all journeys in 2018.
"We need to modernise to meet the changing needs of our customers and we are seeking views from the public on these proposals.
“These proposals include the creation of a new, more visible customer facing role that will offer a wider range of support across our stations.
"This new role will mean that the traditional ticket office is no longer required at most staffed Northern stations, except for 18 at hub locations, that will have amended ticket office opening hours."
A public consultation will run until July 28.
As part of the frequently asked questions on its consultation website, Northern says that ‘where stations are currently staffed, they will continue to have presence from Northern colleagues, although on average for fewer hours per week’.
The proposal has been met with dismay by local residents and union bosses who say they will fiercely oppose the statutory redundancy notices that will be issued for hundreds of railway workers.
Speaking before the announcement, Amble resident Jackie Turpin, 63, who uses Alnmouth station frequently said: “I travel regularly to York on the line and it’s really important to me that I have somebody to ask questions to, whether it’s queries about delays of the trains or what platform I need to be on or just basic train services.”
She said she does use online service but that she also uses the office and appreciates being able to do that.
“A lot of people, especially of my generation are not comfortable with booking online, they don’t like the idea of putting their bank details online. For them, being able to talk to somebody and actually to have something physically in their hand to prove that they’ve got their ticket is really important to them.
“I know that when I buy my ticket online, sometimes because of the software it can be difficult to get the tickets to physically download, I find myself getting quite stressed out, and I consider myself to be fairly IT savvy. I think for people who aren’t confident using IT, it can be quite daunting and I think that face to face contact is just so reassuring.
“I also think that it is such a beautiful station, that having people around that ensures that the character of the station is maintained is really important, It’s not just travelling up and down, it’s the quality of how you travel.”
Staffing at the stations is a key issue that has been raised previously by the South East Northumberland Rail User Group (SENRUG).
SENRUG chairman Dennis Fancett said that groups including the elderly and disabled people, as well as tourists, would be particularly affected if stations were not staffed or staffed less frequently.
He added: "We are more neutral on how staff are deployed at stations, as we think they don't necessarily have to be based behind a counter, but redeploying staff will not save any money.
"Therefore, cutting staff numbers in a bid to save money wouldn't be acceptable to SENRUG. We don't think it would save money either as it would mean fewer people using trains.
"The rail ticket system is extremely complicated and so if the Government feels it has to close ticket offices, it should have made the system more straightforward, and fairer, first.
"As an extra point, why couldn't they and train operators have considered the ticket offices also being a post office, also selling sweets and newspapers and/or also providing Amazon lockers?"
RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch said: "The decision to close up to 1,000 ticket offices and to issue hundreds of redundancy notices to staff is a savage attack on railway workers, their families and the travelling public.
"Travellers will be forced to rely on apps and remote mobile teams to be available to assist them rather than having trained staff on stations.
"This is catastrophic for elderly, disabled and vulnerable passengers trying to access the rail network.
“The arrangements for ticket office opening hours, set out in Schedule 17 of the Ticketing and Settlement Agreement, are the only statutory regulation of station staffing.
“It is crystal clear that the government and train companies want to tear up this agreement and pave the way for a massive de-staffing of the rail network.
"It is clear that the whole enterprise of closing ticket offices has got nothing to do with modernisation and is a thinly veiled plan to gut our railways of station staff.
"Fat cat rail operators and the government do not care one jot about passenger safety, or a well-staffed and friendly railway open to all to use.
"They want to cut costs, make profits for shareholders, and run the network into the ground without a thought as to the vital role the rail industry plays in the country's economy.
"RMT is mounting a strong industrial, and political campaign to resist ticket office closures and station staff cuts. And we will continue our fight on July 20, 22 and 29 when 20,000 railway workers on the train operators go on strike."
Transport for the North said that there is understanding about the change in the way tickets are bought and that reform is needed, but that considerations need to be made.
A spokesperson said: “We are concerned that the focus on ticket office staffing in isolation of wider investment (for example pay as you go ticketing) could lead to disadvantaging certain passengers and communities. We will be working with our partners on a robust response to the consultation using local evidence and knowledge.
“Done correctly, we can ensure that reform supports growth and the needs of all passengers. But it must not be to the disadvantage of any station users, especially in regards to accessibility and safety.”
For in-depth information on the public consultation and how you can get involved, go to www.northernrailway.co.uk/consultation-2023