The City of Durham Parish Council has branded the proposed closure of ticket offices across the country – including the LNER-run ticket office at Durham station – as ‘immoral’ and is leading a campaign locally to get the plans reversed.
Earlier this year, Ministers recently announced plans to “modernise” the railway by closing all of England’s ticket offices. But the plans have been met with a groundswell of opposition, with the consultation amassing an unprecedented 680,000 responses and prompting organisations such as the Parish Council, local residents’ associations and disabled rights campaign groups in Durham to voice their strong opposition to the proposals.
In July, the Parish Council requested an urgent meeting with the Rail Minister Huw Merriman MP in a bid to save the Ticket Office at Durham Railway station but this was refused due to “other diary commitments.”
The outcome of the consultation was originally timetabled for assessment by 6th October, however both Transport Focus and London Travelwatch are understood to have requested an extension due to the sheer volume of feedback. In a government concession, they now have until the end of October to complete their evaluation.
According to FOI data released by the Department for Transport earlier this year, almost 140,000 tickets were sold in the ticket office in Durham in 2019 before the pandemic. The latest figures show that over 76,000 tickets were sold in the ticket office in 2022.
The Parish Council says that passengers would no longer have widespread and easy access to the purchase of rail products and best value fares if the ticket offices closures went ahead as planned. The Council argues that Durham has the highest number of passengers from among the stations where LNER propose to close the ticket office and demand for the ticket office in Durham remains high, with an estimated 14,000 tickets purchased each year at Durham Station alone.
The Parish Council has argued that the Ticket office closures would cause a significant worsening of the facilities and support offered to disabled, deaf and older residents. Already, disabled people face numerous barriers in accessing the rail network and are three times less likely to travel by rail than non-disabled people.
Chair of the Parish Council’s Business Committee, Coun. Richard Ormerod (pictured) said: “Rail users in Durham really value the exceptional service provided by the ticket office staff. In spite of the Minister’s lack of accountability in refusing to sit down with the Parish Council and other organisations, we remain wholly opposed to these proposals. Ticket office closures are clearly going to impact on disabled and elderly users the hardest – it is completely immoral and demonstrates a total lack of understanding of the barriers that disabled people face along the railway.”
He added: “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. Any supposed cost savings by cutting staff cannot be used to justify a policy that will worsen passenger service, accessibility, safety, security, and access to rail products.”
Councillor Ormerod, who represents the Elvet and Gilesgate division on both the Parish Council and County Council, has also gained the Leader of the County Council’s support in lobbying the Government to re-think these plans.
It is now understood that the proposals may now lead to a debate in parliament.