Home » News/Views » Resistance to rail ticket office closures

Resistance to rail ticket office closures

11 July 2023

Glasgow Central Station, Avanti West Coast plans to close its ticket office along with those in all its major stations in England. Photo Workers.

On 5 July train operators announced that nearly all railway ticket offices in England will close –­ over 1,000 in all. More than two thousand rail workers face redundancy, and passengers will lose the service that those workers provide.

The government’s plans are subject to a “consultation” – lasting just three weeks at the height of summer when it knows full well that numbers responding are likely to be low. Most of the offices marked for closure will be shut by Christmas.


The government’s plans are the latest attack on the industry and its staff, and there is little doubt that they will be fiercely resisted by unions and passenger groups. The RMT union is holding two national days of action on 13 and 18 July to mobilise opposition to the closure plans.

The consultation period is short, ending on 26 July, and is being carried out by each separate company. Unions and passenger groups are urging people to respond. They are also campaigning on social media under the tag #SaveTicketOffices.


Seeking to deflect criticism, the government has characterised its plans as “getting staff out from behind ticket office counters and out on station concourses and platforms”. This ignores the reality – that the plans put to rail unions RMT and TSSA show that most staff will come out of their ticket offices to join the dole queue.

As usual, the government and employers have described their plans as “modernisation” and “reform”, stating that this would enable staff to deliver more face-to-face advice and support to passengers, including those with accessibility needs.


Rail Delivery Group. the train operators’ body, has the cheek to describe these plans as “Customer Focused Stations”. Nothing could be further from the truth. Axing staff and making tickets far more difficult to buy will do nothing to improve service to rail passengers.

Industry experts have pointed out that the government seems only concerned with cutting costs, and ignores the likely drop in revenue which would follow ticket office closures. As well as removing help in buying tickets, some potential passengers will feel that stations will be less safe with fewer staff around.


Although some office closures were expected, trade unions and others have criticised the scale and speed of the government’s plans. RMT has described the cuts as “a historic act of vandalism that is about further de-staffing of our stations”.

“We urge commuters to resist these foolish plans.”

Trade union TSSA, which also represents ticket office workers, said “ticket office staff are hugely valued by the travelling public, and we urge commuters to resist these foolish plans by sending the government a crystal-clear message that they are on the wrong track. However, what we are seeing…is widespread plans for redundancies by the back door.”

Rail campaigners the Association of British Commuters has slammed the proposals. It points out that the government has failed to deliver an industry app which would have allowed passengers to buy tickets online. Instead travellers will have to pay commission to private online retailers like Trainline, which is now likely to make millions out of the closure of ticket offices.


The government has left it to train operators to decide on the detail of the cuts. This has created great inconsistency in the proposals. For example, in London, Euston ticket office would close, but Kings Cross will remain. Small town Bicester will continue to have full ticket issuing capability, but the city of Durham won’t.

Sales at ticket offices have fallen over the last decade as passengers have switched to online ticketing and the use of station ticket vending machines. But 12 per cent of sales are still through ticket offices – around 118 million tickets a year. And some locations see a much higher level of ticket office use – at Barnstaple for example, the figure is 45 per cent.


Many people prefer to buy tickets from real trained and helpful rail staff. Not just those who are older or with disabilities, but many others not comfortable with using machines and the internet.

Rail ticketing remains complex despite government promises to make ticketing much easier. Vending machines are not trusted; they notoriously overcharge passengers because not all options are available through the machine. And there are many services that are simply not available through machines, or online.

Cheaper fares are often available by splitting a journey into two or more parts. Ticket restrictions are often complicated and vary widely. Retail staff are able to ensure that passengers understand the conditions attached to some of the cheaper deals on offer. They can also help passengers with unusual travel needs.