Plan to close railway station ticket offices sensationally axed by Government

Plans to close up to 1,000 railway station ticket offices have been sensationally axed by the Government.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper said he had asked rail firms to “withdraw their proposals” after passenger watchdogs comprehensively panned the proposals.

It came after London Travelwatch, the passenger watchdog, wrote to the nine train firms in London on Tuesday formally objecting to the plans to close 269 ticket offices in and around the capital.

This move would have forced the train firms, including GoVia Thameslink, South Western Railway and Southeastern, to amend their plans or appeal to Mr Harper for the right to proceed.

But the Transport Secretary, who had already faced a rebellion from Tory backbenchers, announced Government support was being withdrawn.

Mr Harper said in a statement: “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.”

Mr Harper said the Government would instead look to reform the railways by expanding Contactless Pay As You Go ticketing and improve access for disabled passengers.

Department for Transport sources said it now expected train firms to withdraw the closure plans – and for none to be referred to Mr Harper on appeal.

About 750,000 people responded to the rail industry consultation on the proposed closure of almost 1,000 ticket offices across the country, as part of a bid to get more staff on to station concourses.

About 180,000 responses related to London stations. Many key stations, such as Euston, were at risk of losing their ticket office.

London TravelWatch said that despite recent “significant improvements” to the original plans, including a pledge to retain existing staffing hours, train firms had failed to fully address all passenger concerns.

As a result, it has formally objected to the proposals from all nine rail firms operating in the capital, saying it was not satisfied there would be an improved service for passengers.

Michael Roberts, chief executive of London TravelWatch, said: “The way many passengers buy tickets is changing and so we understand the need to move with the times.

“The idea of closing ticket offices to locate staff nearer to the passengers may sound attractive, but it has proved highly controversial with the public.

“Together with Transport Focus, we received 750,000 responses from individuals and organisations to the consultation, many expressing powerful and passionate concerns about the plans.

“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. London TravelWatch has heard these views loud and clear.

“As an evidence-led organisation, we have also looked carefully at the detailed plans presented by train companies.

“The key tests which the plans have to satisfy are whether the changes would genuinely improve the service to passengers and/or cost effectiveness, and whether passengers would continue to have easy access to today’s range of fares and tickets.

“Despite improving on their original proposals, we don’t think the train companies have gone far enough to meet our concerns and those of the public.

“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.”

Last week the Commons transport committee said the Government-backed proposals went “too far, too fast” and should be reconsidered.

It said many parts of the consultation were “unacceptable” and forced campaigners to turn detective in a bid to establish the scale of the changes proposed.

According to the Department for Transport, the number of ticket office transactions is estimated to have fallen from 175 million in 2012/13 to 75 million in 2022/23.

Mr Harper, speaking last week, said that 90 per cent of passengers bought their ticket online or from ticket-vending machines, not through ticket offices.