Another day; another proposed cut. It has been reported that up to 675 ticket offices at small railway stations may be closed down. Passengers would be expected to buy their tickets at machines in the stations. Anybody who has used one of those machines knows that, occasionally, they fail to work (four times thus far for me) and they rarely assist new users in finding their way around the system. I've used them at stations such as Darlington, Middlesbrough, Thornaby, Wakefield Westgate and Derby so I consider myself well-seasoned, but sometimes they even manage to frustrate me. The back-up of being able to queue at the ticket office if the machine fails is rather an invaluable one. Let's take two examples of small train stations from my own experience.
Thornaby is a small station which is closer to Stockton-on-Tees than it is to Thornaby. The station is serviced by Northen Rail trains travelling between Saltburn and Darlington and First Transpennine Express trains between Middlesbrough and Manchester. It has two platforms and a ticket office in the centre of them. It's a small oblong building with a small waiting room, a ticket machine and two windows at the bottom - a ticket office and what used to be a snack shop (I'm not certain if it's still there). There's a toilet around the back of the station which, if you ask nicely, the man in the ticket booth will give you the key for. The service at Thornaby is highly personal. They used to employ one man only to cover the place, which was enough to cover the duties necessary. I used to queue behind many people wanting detailed advice on journeys or a conversation about railcards. They may not have had the capacity to check online or just wanted advice about it from a human being. It's understandable and, at Thornaby, it worked. I can imagine it's the same for a lot of smaller stations. If you take away the ticket office, you'll also lose the waiting room no doubt. That could prove to be a difficulty, especially on those cold winter nights I used to commute on.
Wakefield Kirkgate is a wreck of a station. It has been the scene of one serious sexual assault due to the fact that it has an underpass leading from one platform to the other. There are probably dozens of unreported smaller crimes which have occurred there. It is unmanned and there is a regional campaign to get it staffed again. Grand Central trains stop there on the way to London. Cheap tickets are often advertised on billboards around the town but no one wants to take advantage of them because of the reputation as a 'rape station'. If Kirkgate was a viable option for trains going towards Leeds it may even ease congestion on the overstretched East Coast trains going from Wakefield Westgate.
If you allow a station to become unstaffed it can lead to the kind of situation we have at Wakefield Kirkgate. Demand on our railways will lessen, yes, but no doubt road congestion will increase. If there was a visible presence at Wakefield Kirkgate station then the public would feel a lot safer. I can't help thinking that we're sacrificing security for the sake of a few pounds. And all this when we're shelled out billions on HS2 which will do nothing for the economy or regional growth.