Durham railway station ticket office saved from closure

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Campaigners across the country have recently rejoiced in the Government’s abandonment of plans announced in July to close almost all of England’s 1,007 railway station ticket offices, including at Durham’s station.

The North East plans to close ticket offices plans were met with widespread objection, including by the City of Durham Parish Council who requested an urgent meeting to discuss their concerns with the Rail Minister, Huw Merriman MP.

The Parish Council expressed concerns about the accessibility of tickets and availability of affordable fares for elderly and disabled rail users, noting that Durham is one of LNER’s busiest stations.

FOI statistics from the Department for Transport revealed that Durham’s station sold 140,000 tickets via its ticket office in 2019, and 76,000 in 2022. Whilst ticket sales in 2022 were lower than in 2019, this is still an increase in years’ figures since the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The benefit of the human touch for railway users goes well beyond just the sale of tickets”

cllr. richard ormerod

Cllr. Richard Ormerod, Chair of Durham City Parish Council’s Business Committee, emphasised the value of the in-person services provided by ticket offices, saying: “The benefit of the human touch for railway users goes well beyond just the sale of tickets.

“Ticket office staff are often first aid trained, provide users with a sense of security and safety when travelling at night and can also offer a range of ticket fares which often are not available via a ticket machine.”

He added: “We are delighted that the government has seen sense and has now decided to U-turn on these ill-thought-out plans, which would have seen our ticket office in Durham close for good. I am delighted that the Parish Council has been leading the campaign to save our much-loved ticket office in Durham City.”

Proposals to close ticket offices came from the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) prompted by the Government’s request that they increase savings and “modernise”.

Jacqueline Starr, chief executive of the RDG, added: “With just 12% of tickets being sold from ticket offices last year, and 99% of those transactions being available on ticket vending machines or online, our proposals would mean more staff on hand to give face-to-face help with a much wider range of support, from journey planning, to finding the right ticket, and helping those with accessibility needs.”

“It has become abundantly clear just how vital face-to-face support provided at rail ticket offices in for many vulnerable, elderly or disabled passengers”

labour mp, mary kelly foy

Following the announcement, campaigners voiced their objections during a three-week public consultation on the proposals allowed by the Government, via travel watchdogs Transport Focus and TravelWatch. Nationally, they received 750,000 responses, 99% of which were reported to be negative. The public consultation period was later extended to 1st September, in light of the volume of responses received.

This included the Royal National Institute for Blind People (RNIB) who conducted a survey into blind and partially sighted people’s use of railway stations. 76% of people they surveyed said that they preferred using ticket offices to pay for their fares.

Sophie Dodgeon, Head of Policy and Public Affairs for the RNIB, commented that: “Blind and partially sighted people are telling us that taking away ticket offices will reduce their independence and confidence to buy a ticket and use the rail network, with many people unable to use Ticket Vending Machines and online apps because they are simply not accessible.”

Concerns were also raised over potential job losses for rail service workers, with Mike Lynch, General Secretary for the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, saying: “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.”

On 31st October, it was announced that the majority of ticket offices in England would remain open.

“Closing ticket offices would have derailed the ability of many to travel with confidence”

LABOUR MP, MARY KELLY FOY

Secretary of State for Transport, Mark Harper stated that: “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.

“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.”

Labour MP for the City of Durham, Mary Kelly Foy, applauded the decision, and commented: “While leading calls locally in opposition to these closures it has become abundantly clear just how vital face-to-face support provided at rail ticket offices in for many vulnerable, elderly or disabled passengers.

“Closing ticket offices would have derailed the ability of may to travel with confidence.”

Cllr. Ormerod also celebrated the U-turn, saying: “We are celebrating this excellent result.”

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