Saturday, 2 Mar 2024

Tory leaders call for rethink on controversial rail ticket office closures

More than 460,000 people have so far responded to a consultation about plans to shut around 1,000 sites across England, with staff being moved on to platforms and concourses to assist passengers.

Travellers would be expected to buy tickets online or at machines within stations.

But Conservative mayors facing elections next year have criticised the proposals.

Among them is Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen. He told the Sunday Express: “Ticket office closures at a time when we should be encouraging people to travel by train sends the wrong message, and I’m particularly concerned about the impact they would have on elderly people and those with disabilities.”

Mr Houchen added: “I’m pressing operators to make sure that any closures do not impact staffing times and I’ll continue to encourage the people of Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool to make their views clear via consultation.”

It follows a warning from West Midlands mayor Andy Street, who said: “There are too many concerns unanswered in these proposals for us to support them as they are.”

And Conservative MP Ben Bradley, who hopes to become the first mayor of the East Midlands region, said the existing arrangements were “not sustainable”.

But the MP for Mansfield added: “It’s relatively obvious that widespread office closures would cause problems for some people.”

Urging the Government to listen to the results of the consultation, he said: “I think we should take it for what it is, which is a consultation, and look at the outcomes of that with a properly open mind. In some cases, it won’t be right to do that.”

Elections for regional mayors are to be held next May, with Tories defending in Tees Valley and the West Midlands. They also hope to be triumphant in the newly created post in the East Midlands.

But time is running out for rail passengers to submit their thoughts on the controversial plans as the consultation ends on Friday.

offices vYesterday, 20,000 members of rail union the RMT staged walkouts in protest against the closure plans, with another strike due to be staged this Saturday.

The Government says the proposals have come from the rail operators. Transport minister Huw Merriman said: “Together with the rail industry, we want to improve and modernise the passenger experience by moving staff out from ticket offices to provide more help and advice in customerfocused roles.

“No currently staffed station will be unstaffed as a result of industry changes, and train operators will ensure staff are well located to meet passenger needs in future.”

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