SOMERSET MP Ian Liddell-Grainger is “thrilled” that plans to close the majority of railway ticket offices in England have been scrapped.

The Rail Delivery Group, which represents train companies, unveiled the cost-cutting proposals in July, saying “fewer people than ever” are using ticket offices and staff should be moved onto platforms and concourses to assist passengers.

In September, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said closing ticket offices was “the right thing for the British public and British taxpayers” as “only one in 10 tickets are sold currently in ticket offices”.

According to documents published by Great Western Railway, the ticket office at Bridgwater Station could have closed by June 2024 under the plans.

Somerset County Gazette: Transport Secretary Mark Harper announced the ‘U-turn’ yesterday.Transport Secretary Mark Harper announced the ‘U-turn’ yesterday. (Image: Andrew Matthews, PA Wire)

But yesterday, Transport Secretary Mark Harper said train operators have been asked to withdraw the proposals after a public consultation.

Mr Harper said: “The consultation on ticket offices has now ended, with the government making clear to the rail industry throughout the process that any resulting proposals must meet a high threshold of serving passengers.

“We have engaged with accessibility groups throughout this process and listened carefully to passengers as well as my colleagues in Parliament.

“The proposals that have resulted from this process do not meet the high thresholds set by ministers, and so the government has asked train operators to withdraw their proposals.”

Somerset County Gazette: Ian Liddell-Grainger is “thrilled” the plans have been “comprehensively binned”.Ian Liddell-Grainger is “thrilled” the plans have been “comprehensively binned”. (Image: UK Parliament)

Mr Liddell-Grainger, who represents Bridgwater and West Somerset, said: “This disastrous proposal had all the hallmarks of a cynical desk-top exercise which took no account of the realities of rail travel.

“In particular, it ignored the needs of occasional travellers who require more guidance and advice – particularly on obtaining the best price for their journeys – than they can ever get from a ticket machine.

“Equally, it turned a totally blind eye to the elderly who do not own computers and are therefore unable to book online.

“The entire recent history of the railway network in this country has been one where the needs of the operators have consistently taken precedence over those of the travelling public and where the drive to increase profits has appeared to be far more important than the duty to provide a decent and reliable public service.

“I am not surprised there was a huge public outcry over the closure proposals and I really am thrilled the idea has been comprehensively binned.

“What we must now guard against is any further erosion of services to passengers or, indeed, any attempt to close ticket offices by stealth on a station-by-station basis using skewed data suggesting they are not being used.

“So we need to ensure that they are adequately manned rather than deliberately kept under-staffed in order to create queues and reduce passenger footfall, which would just strengthen the case for any revived attempt by the operators to deprive the public of a highly-valued service.

“Given that I have a healthy mistrust of railway operators, I would therefore urge every rail passenger needing to buy tickets on the day of travel to allow themselves a little extra time and obtain them from a ticket office rather than a machine.”