Posted 17th July 2023 | 3 Comments

Monday essay: the ticket office panto continues

The ticket office saga is rumbling on.

More objections are being made publicly. One city Mayor has even questioned whether the plan by the Department for Transport to close nearly all station ticket offices in England is actually legal.

Certainly the train operators, who have been given the unenviable task of starting the consultation process which is required by law, have made a dog’s breakfast of explaining what is happening, with some of them giving the plans little publicity.

One of these is state-owned LNER, so this isn’t a case of the private sector trying to resist governmental pressures.

It has become all too clear that the DfT is using the present structure of the passenger railway to offload as much as the blame as possible on to the operators, whether they are in the public or private sectors (writes Sim Harris).

One example of the DfT’s approach was provided in the Commons on 10 July, although not in connection with ticket offices, when rail minister Huw Merriman was answering three questions from Poplar and Limehouse MP Apsana Begum about the free travel concessions available to senior managers and board members at LNER, Northern and Southeastern.

Mr Merriman reached for his copy of DfT Myths and Legends (presumably), and in all seriousness offered this remarkable answer (three times): ‘The renumeration packages between the organisation and Board members or Directors are a matter for the individual companies. They are all independent third parties.’

Really, minister? In one case the question had referred not to the operator’s directors, but to those on the board of OLR DfT Holdings Ltd, which describes itself as having been ‘established by the Department for Transport and is the public sector-owning group responsible for three train operating companies … DOHL fulfils the Secretary of State for Transport’s requirements under Section 30 of the Railways Act …’

And yet, when it seems prudent to withdraw into the ministerial bunker, even the DfT’s own company is an ‘independent third party’.

That is the kind of logical thinking which has illuminated the official stance on ticket office closures, and it may account for at least part of the dog’s breakfast.

When the proposals are held up to the light, they can be seen to be suspiciously threadbare. For example the busiest and second busiest stations on National Rail are London Waterloo (41,426,042 entrances and exits in 2021-22, according to the ORR) and London Victoria (36,776,338).

However, the modest station at Runcorn East, which ranks at number 1,425 in the busiest stations league (120,012 entrances and exits), is keeping its ticket office, although the nearby station of Runcorn on the West Coast Main Line (four times as busy, with 486,270) is not.

The explanation is that Runcorn (WCML) is run by Avanti West Coast, which is closing all its offices, including London Euston (23,097,606), but Runcorn East is under the control of Transport for Wales, which is having nothing to do with any of this closures business.

But even when stations are under the management of a DfT operator, there are no guarantees. Stations like London Waterloo (South Western Railway) and London Paddington (Great Western Railway, 23,870,510) are losing their ticket windows, but the windows at London Fenchurch Street (c2c, 7,795,346) are to stay.

In Manchester, where Piccadilly (Avanti West Coast,19,581,442 and the tenth busiest station in Britain) will have to manage without ticket windows, suburban Glossop, which is run more benevolently by Northern (588,956 entrances and exits) will see no change, and its office will continue. Northern is closing 131 ticket offices but keeping 18, including Glossop.

In Scotland, the pantomime is much the same. Glasgow Central (Avanti West Coast, 15,322,350) will have its ticket windows closed, but Glasgow Queen Street (ScotRail, 8,467,718) will carry on.

In spite of the axe falling on Glasgow Central, Edinburgh (LNER, 13,617,536) will also keep its ticket office, because LNER is maintaining ticket offices at its six busiest stations along the East Coast Main Line, including London King’s Cross (20,476,492).

The core excuse for the closures is that only about 12 per cent of passengers are now using ticket offices. Taking that figure as an average, that means the office at London Waterloo is still being used by some five million passengers a year, or nearly 14,000 people a day.

There are going to be some big queues for the ticket machines.

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • dave barry, Wallasey

    Many years ago staff of all kinds were removed from stations.. it resulted in a great deal of vandalism, this caused many buildings having to be demolished resulting in a very basic and very scruffy railway. This will probably happen again to our now fairly smart staffed stations, never mind the safety aspects. Learn from history.

  • Neil Palmer, Waterloo

    It certainly appears Mr Merriman is being rather duplicitous.
    Well at least for Glasgow Central maybe ScotRail could (should!) take over the running of the ticket office there.
    Maybe our friends at TfW would like to take over all the major English ticket offices. ;-)

  • Philip Lynn Mason, Grantham

    Last month I declined an invitation from LNER to attend a stakeholder event because they refused to provide a complimentary travel ticket. Other ToCs always provide this.