Hundreds of station ticket offices could be closed under a post-pandemic revamp of Britain’s railways.
Rail industry leaders have been in talks with the government about ways to modernise the network under a new publicly-owned national body.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is keen to reduce taxpayer funding following the £16billion bailout during the Covid pandemic and staff costs will be a main focus of the plan.
Transport unions would fight such a move and are threatening industrial action.
They point out the presence of ticket offices and staff at stations is important for vulnerable groups such as the disabled, elderly, pregnant women and those without access to a computer for ticket booking.
The Great British Railways will take over from Network Rail and start running the nation’s railways from 2023. It will take responsibility for the track and stations as well as ticketing, timetables and network planning.
Trains will still be run by private companies under new ‘Passenger Service Contracts’ that will replace the franchise system that collapsed when Covid dramatically reduced train travel two years ago.
Under the Integrated Rail Plan announced in November the government said £360million would be invested in a ‘radical reform’ of ‘fares, ticketing and retailing on the railways’.
This includes ‘contactless tap-in and tap-out ticketing at more than 700 stations across the country over the next three years’.
This was billed as the first stage of a more ‘convenient and modern digital ticketing’ system that unions fear will also involve the mass closure and scaling down of manned ticket offices in train stations.
Seven years ago all station ticket offices were closed on the London Underground network despite widespread criticism of the cost-cutting move.
The Department for Transport has not commented on specific train station closure plans but is determined to make the railways more ‘cost-effective’.
A spokesman said the modernisation plan ‘could include changing what some staff at stations do, or how they do it, to ensure passengers get the services they deserve’.
But adding: ‘Staff will always provide face-to-face services on the railways, which can be crucial for those who need additional support and cannot, or do not want to, use contactless or mobile tickets.’
Manuel Cortes, General Secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association, said yesterday: ‘Grant Shapps needs to realise that this daft plan is likely to result in the threat of compulsory redundancies, and if that happens we will be issuing ballots for industrial action.
‘Closing ticket offices will not only be opposed by the unions but the public at large. Shapps must stand up to the faceless accountants in the Treasury because a properly run and fully functioning railway is vital in building an economic recovery from Covid.
‘The government should share their plans in detail with us and commenters now if they are so sure that closing ticket offices and taking £2billion a year out of our railways is the best way forward. I’d strongly urge them to reconsider.’
Source: The Dailymail