North East council leaders condemn 'flawed' proposal to close rail ticket offices in Alnmouth, Morpeth and Berwick

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North East council leaders have added their voice to the growing list of people calling for plans to close ticket offices to be halted, arguing that the consultation process is ‘opaque and complex’.

The North East Joint Transport Committee (NEJTC), which acts on behalf of North East councils, has responded to Transport Focus’ formal train station ticket office consultation.

Councillor Martin Gannon, chair of the NEJTC, said: “The transport committee has serious concerns about the consultation being run by train operators including Northern Trains and LNER, and we object strongly to the proposed closures to the majority of our region’s ticket offices.”

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The NEJTC object the proposed closure of multiple ticket offices, including Alnmouth, Berwick and Morpeth, on the grounds that some ticket types will no longer be capable of being retailed at those stations, and it will not be possible to pay in cash, therefore having a detrimental impact on rail passengers.

Alnmouth Station Ticket Office.Alnmouth Station Ticket Office.
Alnmouth Station Ticket Office.

They also consider that the process of consultation is unfair and insufficient to passengers and stakeholders as it is opaque, complex to engage with, unduly short, and inadequate information has been provided, particularly in relation to Equality Impact Assessments.

Cllr Gannon continues: “We believe that the approach being taken is wrong, service quality is being sacrificed for financial reasons and local needs have not been taken into account. Also, the process of consultation is far too complex, and lacking in information and transparency.

“Our region is serious about transforming and investing in our public transport network to drive the use of sustainable transport including rail. We do not believe that penny pinching measures are appropriate, and they go directly against our region’s ambitions to grow the rail network.

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“While we understand that the world is changing and many passengers do purchase tickets online, ticket offices provide a much wider range of supportive services than simply selling tickets.

"Whether providing timetable and real-time departure information, local directions and visitor information, or simply reassurance and advice about the journey ahead, we believe that many millions of customer interactions each day are not captured by the 12% figure of ticket sales.

"Most stations are community assets as well as travel hubs, whose appearance and facilities form part of the image and functionality of the villages, towns and cities that they are part of.

The committee feel that both the short formal engagement period and Northern’s proposed reduced staffing levels is unacceptable given the scale of the proposed closures and the impact on customer services, especially for the elderly and people with disabilities.

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“We also believe that the consultation itself is being conducted in such a way that it is very difficult for passengers to meaningfully engage with it, and the more impacted the user (for example because of a disability or other vulnerability), the less likely they are to be able to engage with the proposals and make their views heard.

“I urge the government and train operating companies to halt this consultation without delay – it isn’t fair, and the proposals are flawed.”