Using railway ticket offices 'is frankly Victorian', claims Network Rail chief as closure threat looms

This article contains affiliate links. We may earn a small commission on items purchased through this article, but that does not affect our editorial judgement.

The chairman of Network Rail has claimed buying train tickets over the counter is "frankly Victorian" in the wake of reported plans to close every railway station ticket office in the country.

The Sunday Times has reported that the rail industry has drawn up a confidential strategy to close all 980 ticket offices in railway stations across the country, starting the closure programme from this September in a bid to save around £500m.

Rail chiefs and the Government say no final decision on the plan has yet been taken. Around one in eight railway tickets are currently sold over the counter.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Sir Peter Hendy, chairman of Network Rail, was not questioned directly about the closure plan on LBC Radio this morning but was asked to confirm that one ticket office in the country is selling around just one ticket a week were correct in an apparent reference to comments made by whether Transport Secretary Grant Shapps last week.

Network Rail chairman Peter Hendy has said railway ticket offices are an outdated concept.Network Rail chairman Peter Hendy has said railway ticket offices are an outdated concept.
Network Rail chairman Peter Hendy has said railway ticket offices are an outdated concept.

Sir Peter, who was formerly the Commissioner of Transport for London, replied: "I don't know whether it is true but I expect it is.

"You'll recall on the Tube in my time that we got rid of ticket offices, we had places that sold two or three tickets a day.

"The point is, if the railways properly serve the nation it has to be related to the way in which people live in the modern age.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"We all learnt during Covid to order stuff on the internet. Shopping has changed.

Sir Peter Hendy with Boris Johnson in Downing Street last year.Sir Peter Hendy with Boris Johnson in Downing Street last year.
Sir Peter Hendy with Boris Johnson in Downing Street last year.

"Actually the prospect of people rolling up to railway stations, paying cash through a window to somebody sitting there waiting to receive their money is frankly Victorian now, isn't it?"

He added that the removal of ticket offices from the London Underground had proved to be a success.

"We argued about that on the Tube and what was the result? Passenger traffic continued to rise and people used their Oyster cards and credit cards just in the way you now pay for everything in shops, cafes and restaurants."

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Last week, Grant Shapps said rail reforms were required if staff were to receive annual pay rises and cited ticket office closures as part of a "sensible plan" for the industry.

He said: "Nowadays, just one in eight tickets is sold over the counter, yet we still have roughly the same number of ticket offices as in the days when we all queued up at stations to buy our tickets. The quietest office sold just 17 tickets in three months. That’s one ticket every five and a half days.

"Any sensible plan would move staff away from where they are not needed, like ticket offices, and increase shifts where they are needed, like weekends."

Union leaders are seeking urgent talks over "explosive" plan for the closures.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The Sunday Times report said the industry would seek to phase out the use of paper tickets - meaning all rail passengers would have to make online purchases.

The Government has already announced plans in November for the £360m rollout of contactless tap-in and tap-out ticketing barriers at 700 stations across the North and Midlands over the next three years.

But there are concerns about the potential impact of ticket office closures on older passengers, with Age UK noting that many older people lack an up-to-date smartphone or tablet, or live in a place with unreliable broadband.

Should the closures go ahead, it is intended that passengers who struggle to cope with digital services would receive help from staff on concourses to help with ticket purchases.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union Mick Lynch told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday that the union has been informed of the ticket office closure plan.

He said: "They've told us every single booking office in Britain will close."

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “While no final decision has been taken on ticket offices, they have seen a significant decline in passenger use over the last decade yet numbers have not substantially changed since then.

“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.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The Rail Delivery Group (RDG) also said no decision had been taken on ticket offices.

An RDG spokesperson said: “The pandemic has been an unprecedented financial shock to the railway.

“While no decisions have been taken over ticket offices, with the acceleration of changing travel patterns and more passengers migrating to digital technology, many jobs will need to change to become more passenger-centric.

“Train companies want to work with unions on how to address those changes while making sure the industry takes no more than its fair share from the taxpayer.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

At The Yorkshire Post, we are committed to speaking truth to power on behalf of the people who call God’s Own County their home. Our political team and Westminster Correspondent are Yorkshire's eyes and ears in the corridors of power.

If you’d like all the latest political news straight to your inbox, you can sign up to our newsletter for free at: