Rail ticket office closures will go 'too far, too fast'

Plans to close rail ticket offices will go "too far, too fast", MPs have warned.

The Rail Delivery Group announced over the summer that almost all of the 1,007 in-person facilities in England would be shut down in an effort to reduce costs after a post-COVID fall in passenger numbers.

The industry body also said only 12% of tickets were now purchased from offices at stations - compared with 85% in the mid-90s - and current staff would be offered new positions on station platforms to offer assistance.

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The proposals were backed by government ministers, including Transport Secretary Mark Harper.

But there was a backlash from unions - with the proposed closures part of the reason for ongoing strike action - as well as charities, who warned of the impact on vulnerable passengers.

Now, the cross-party transport committee has written to rail minister Huw Merriman, warning the proposals lead to "a situation that risks excluding some passengers from the railway".

Chair of the committee Iain Stewart added: "It is clear from the evidence we heard from operators that the overall rationale for these changes is based on the behaviour of the majority of passengers. To some extent, that is reasonable.

"This is not necessarily, however, a sufficient approach for safeguarding the needs of a minority of passengers who have legitimate concerns about whether closing a ticket office would remove the support they need - whether with ticketing, information, safety or access assistance - to travel freely and reliably on the railway to the same extent as everyone else."

He said the committee had heard concerns from a wide range of people, including those with mobility impairments worried about having to roam a station to find a member of staff, along with passengers with hearing and sight loss needing a fixed position to get assistance, and others with learning disabilities who could struggle to use ticket machines.

Mr Stewart also lambasted "a lack of transparency" around the plans by the Rail Delivery Group, train operators and the Department for Transport "about the cumulative impact of the proposals on the rail network" - saying those with concerns about the closures "have been left to do the considerable detective work of checking whether claims made by operators stack up".

And he criticised the consultation with passengers being based on comments about individual stations, saying it was "not adequate for capturing network-wide issues, and does not reflect how people travel".

The chair concluded: "We therefore consider that the proposals as put forward by train operating companies in this consultation go too far, too fast, towards a situation that risks excluding some passengers from the railway.

"At a minimum, changes this radical should be carefully piloted in limited areas and evaluated for their effect on all passengers before being rolled out.

"This would allow for the alternative proposals, which at present are too vague, to be properly understood."

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: "While these are industry proposals, we have been consistently clear that the industry must ensure that the quality of service for passengers is maintained to a high standard.

"The public consultation has now closed and independent passenger representatives will review the responses with train operating companies shortly."