/ Travel & Leisure

Planned train ticket office closures – do you care?

Rail ticket offices closed

Transport unions certainly do – the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) claims to have unearthed government plans for 675 train ticket offices to be shut in the recent McNulty rail review.

The TSSA’s response to this discovery has been to launch a “save our stations” campaign. I can understand the arguments for keeping train ticket offices open, as they can:

1. Provide valuable advice (although our research has found it’s often incorrect, but more on that later)

2. Avoid all the problems you can get with ticket vending machines

3. Improve safety, especially at night or for vulnerable passengers

4. Generally help and welcome people at tourist hotspots

On the other hand, if the costs of the railway have to be slashed, then cutting staff is one very obvious way to do it.

Train station staff salaries

Despite the recession, McNulty found that the pay railway staff get has risen by substantially more than the UK industry average. From 1996/7 to 2008/9 real average salary costs were up 31% for train companies, whereas the average for the economy as a whole was 15%.

McNulty also found one train company with 10 different agreements for employing its staff. Some ran to over 300 pages and referred back to agreements dating from the 1920s.

So it’s not too surprising that if £1bn is to be saved from the running costs of the railway, then cutting staff numbers, and thus closing manned ticket offices, is going to be on the list.

Our own research has consistently found that advice at stations is poor. Earlier this year, when we asked about journeys, 59% of ticket office clerks failed to offer the cheapest ticket when we asked. Two thirds got it wrong in September 2009 and half got it wrong in October 2007.

Despite this research, do you, like transport unions, care about manned ticket offices in train stations? Or are you happy to either book tickets online or use vending machines?


Looking at the list many of the stations on it are only manned at peak periods so it won’t really make as much difference as some are claiming.

I avoid public transport at all costs. They’d have to pay me to use trains and I’m not talking a token amount either.

If you know about the intricacies of the fares system and the trains that count as peak or off-peak you can do quite well on a train company website. If you want to talk to somebody and consider alternative journeys then the National Rail Enquiries line is quite good. In both cases the tickets seem to arrive the following day. But if you suddenly have to make a journey you really need a staffed ticket office, especially if connections are involved or if engineering work is taking place, or if you need to know the times of trains on a different train company’s network. Ticket machines do not tell you the available routes, do not tell you whether your planned return time is peak or off-peak, do not tell you if a line or station is closed, and do not show train times. I don’t think they can supply off-peak tickets until the peak period has ended and [so far as I am aware] they cannot supply tickets for a different day. If there is a service alteration on your local train company’s network there might be a poster at the station but in my experience this is never adjacent to the ticket machine [sometime it’s in the booking hall which is not much use when the ticket office is closed because staff are absent] and there is almost certainly no poster telling you about any alterations to services on any other network. The ticket machine at our local station will only issue one ticket at a time so you have to start all over again if you need a second ticket and it is both hard to see the text and difficult to navigate without making a mistake. Staffing the ticket offices should be a condition of running a railway – this should apply to any station handling more than twenty passengers an hour on average between 0600 and 2200 Mon-Sat.

Waylander101 says:
11 September 2011

Not so long ago i worked a permanent night shift (10-6) and caught the train to and from work. Both stations on this route were unmanned and as it was only a very short journey I often got to travel for free due to there being no vending machines and the ticket collector being too idle to bother coming down the train.

I’m not bragging here though; what I do want to say is that several people caught this train every day and because we were not being charged for the journey it appears that no-one is catching that train. Couldn’t this kind of thing just lead to station closures or train cancellations in the long run?

kevstanley says:
11 September 2011

As things stand, it’s impossible to buy all ticket types from machines. My partner uses a Disabled Person’s Railcard, and while it’s possible to use it online – assuming it’s a planned journey – we’ve yet to encounter a ticket machine which sells tickets with the requisite discount. So for unplanned journeys, the ticket office is the only option.

Besides the issue of ticketing, station staff are invaluable, for example, to disabled passengers who need assistance, and as a source of information, often otherwise unavailable, to passengers in general. Not everything can be automated.

Mikhail says:
12 September 2011

I absolutely HATE public transport in the UK because of:

1. The same journey could cost as little as £2.50 and as much as £16.50, depends on how and when you have purchased the ticket. Is it fair to anyone who doesn’t know who to use the Internet (elderly) or don’t have a plastic card (young people)? Trains are NOT airlines to play with the ticket cost; maybe Which? should campaign about it.

2. Return ticket. Have you noticed that a return ticket at the same day cost 0.20-1.00p more, but on the next day as much as another ticket. Brighton to Gatwick single £8.50, return at the same day – £9, return on the next day £16.

3. British rails are the most expensive and unreliable rails in the whole Europe. Too cold, too wet, too much slow, too hot, too windy, too much leaves, I think everyone heard it in a past. For the price we pay we all have to travel in the 1st class, with no delays and refreshments included.

The only reason that rail workers pay has been going up beyond other industries is because of Bob Crow and his cronies

Will these selfish unions ever realise that it was them that killed British manufacturing, not the government? The government ended up invoking policies to break the unions and that ultimately broke the industry, as one would expect. The same is happening again except it is against the general railway staff this time. There is no life that the unions cannot ruin.

So whenever I hear that a union is “sticking up for their workers”, I take it with a pinch of salt. Unions cannot have their cake and eat it, despite them trying their very best to do so. I despise them with everything that I am and their strike action to boost the pay of their members has now caused their own members jobs to be under threat.

Well done unions for screwing up the country again, thanks a bunch (rolleyes)

Personally? Couldn’t care less. Very rare that I queue up to talk to the ticket office, and if I do, it’s only because one of the machines isn’t working. Hopefully they can use some of the savings to better develop the machines, as they offer a very poor experience for a novice traveller, though fine for the experienced commuter.

owdsyko says:
16 September 2011

do not care. Can not afford rail prices anyway, so never use railways

David Lewis says:
8 October 2011

Closing train ticket offices would be a major blow for myself as a wheelchair user. I frequently use the train and cannot get on without assistance. I cannot reach the ticket machines to buy a ticket and furthermore I have been told the lift will not be switched on when the ticket office is closed.

I do drive but not that often because of my disability, and the govt have stopped access to work paying for my parking at work, so either way they are doing people over and I am fed up of it. I have written letters about the ticket office closures to everyone including some high up peeple, it is now for Philip Hammond to decide.

Colin Stone says:
19 February 2013

Seems to me it is simply about cost rather than the service. God knows what is going to happen on a Monday morning when people want to renew their season tickets. If the number of people using the trains is increasing then how is there always a need to cut costs? The government may pay money to keep the railways going each year but how much tax is taken from the pay packets of people who need them to get to work. A lot more than is paid no doubt.