Mayors start legal process, warning rail companies to abandon ticket office closures consultation
Northern Mayors issue pre-action protocol letters with deadlines setting out how they will take legal action if rail ticket office closure consultation is not halted
Mayors across England have now written to train operators with an up to seven-day warning, setting out the legal action they will take if a consultation to close the majority of rail tickets offices and drastically cut staff available to support passengers across the country, is not halted.
On 5 July, the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) announced, without warning, that the public would have just 21 days to have their say on plans to close almost all of the 1,007 remaining ticket offices in the country.
Five Mayors from across England came together on Tuesday 18 July to raise their concerns about the plans and to announce that they have taken legal advice on challenging rail operators – TransPennine Express, Northern Trains Ltd, LNER, EMR, Thameslink, Greater Anglia and Avanti - as the type of consultation they are using is inappropriate for changes of this scale, and is being conducted in a chaotic manner.
The Mayors have now sent pre-action protocol letters to each of the above operators over the last few days, with the last being sent today (Friday 21 July), setting out their course of legal action if the consultation is not halted. The letters set out the requirements under Section 29 of the Railway Act 2005, a very clear and detailed process which must be followed if a train operating company proposes to close a station or any part of a station. That process starts with an assessment and notification to the Secretary of State for Transport. If the Secretary of State allows the proposal, a 12-week consultation period must follow before a decision is made.
The current plans would impact the most vulnerable in society, including disabled and older people, with many ticket machines at train stations outside of London not being accessible as they are cashless. Of the 467 northern rail stations, 449 have cashless ticket machines.
As part of their case for closures, the RDG have stated that 12 per cent of rail ticket transactions are done at ticket offices – which is in reality still 60 million ticket sales per year. In Greater Manchester, 16 per cent of tickets are sold from ticket offices, a higher figure than the national average. This disparity is also reflected in the fact that nationally, one in every eight tickets is sold at a ticket office whereas the figure across Northern stations is one in every six. Of the 191 ticket offices in the North, 165 are due to close.
The proposals would also see station staffing reduced by over 250 jobs by Northern Trains alone.
Mayor of West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin said: “Ticket office staff are essential if we want our railways to be accessible to everyone. They offer advice, guidance – and sometimes, simply a friendly face to people who may already be socially excluded.
“As a commuter myself, I know our rail system is already too fragmented, with complex ticketing options across a patchwork of operators. On top of this, rail passengers in the North have endured months of disruption on the network – this frankly insulting proposal is the last thing we need.
“No amount of window dressing can hide the fact that this move is a smokescreen for savage cutbacks to the service, and any reduction in staffing will only make train stations less safe for the vulnerable.
“This consultation is barely worth the paper it’s written on. We as Mayors are united on this issue. I’d say to the government and train operating companies: listen to the people who know their areas best.
“We will not stand by as this wilful act of sabotage is inflicted on our rail network.”
Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham said: “This consultation is shambolic and totally inadequate and our letter sets out how we will challenge it legally if it is not halted and reviewed now.
“The Government and Train Operating Companies know what they are doing here, they are trying to dress up staff reductions and cost cutting as ‘improvements to customer service’. What’s worse is they are trying to railroad this through by way of a chaotic consultation - that is why we have come together with this legal challenge to suspend the process immediately.
“These closures will impact the most vulnerable in our society, including older and disabled people, and to give them just 21 days to feedback when they are less likely to have internet access, is outrageous. It is clear to us that they are not adhering to the law set out in Railways Act 2005 and we will fight this all the way.
“These plans represent the complete destruction of our rail services. They are trying to close almost every ticket office when services in the north are the most unreliable they have ever been, but prices are still through the roof. It’s almost as if they are trying to drive people away from rail and we are not going to stand for this.”
South Yorkshire’s Mayor Oliver Coppard said: “I’m astounded that the Government think it’s a good idea to close scores of ticket offices across the country.
“At a time when we’re asking people to leave their cars at home and when more people than ever are trying to save money, access to advice, help and even a friendly face is more important than ever.
“After months, if not years, of travel chaos across the North, these plans to close ticket offices will make rail travel, if not impossible, then much harder for so many.
“That’s why, on behalf of passengers we’re calling for these plans to be scrapped, and for the government to finally show some ambition for the railways, not steadily dismantle what was once a world-class service.”
Mayor of the Liverpool City Region Steve Rotheram said: “The measure of any decent society is how it treats its most vulnerable citizens. The government’s plan to railroad through these ticket office closures, with a completely inadequate 21-day consultation, shows a complete disregard for the passengers, mostly disabled and elderly residents, who will feel its impact most.
“Not only do these proposals threaten to cut off some of the most vulnerable members of our society from accessing the railways, but they are also playing a dangerous game with people’s livelihoods too. We cannot and should not accept a public transport system that leaves behind the very people who need it most.
“We need to attract more people to use our rail system if we are to address the climate emergency. These proposals will have the opposite effect. Our message to the government and train companies is clear: rethink this act of wanton vandalism and go back to the drawing board or we will make you.”
· Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham
· Mayor of West Yorkshire, Tracy Brabin
· Mayor of Liverpool City-Region, Steve Rotheram
· Mayor of South Yorkshire, Oliver Coppard
If the consultation was to be suspended, the Mayors would seek an urgent meeting with Ministers to discuss how reform of our railways can be undertaken to the benefit, and not detriment, of passengers.
Also supporting the campaign is Mayor of Cambridge and Peterborough, Dr Nik Johnson. Cambridge and Peterborough Combined Authority are still taking legal advice and aim to send their pre-action letter by Monday 24 July.
Mayor Dr Nik Johnson, in support of this campaign, said: “Staffed, accessible ticket offices are an essential part of the rail system and must be protected. I’m making my position known to the train operators, objecting to their proposals for widespread closures. We’re also making clear our concerns, in line with our specific governance arrangements, that they’ve chosen a consultation process that’s needlessly hasty and risks preventing meaningful participation.”