On 12 July, I wrote about the plan being rolled out nationally to close most Railway Station Ticket Offices. Because I’m currently commuting via Huyton, I based my arguments against the proposal on the likely changes to staffing there and, once I’d published the piece, I tagged the Metro Mayor of the Liverpool City Region in a tweet about it.

A few hours later, this happened:

Now, I’m not saying my piece had anything to do with Mayor Rotherham’s intervention, but the video was filmed at Huyton and the Mayor’s arguments do seem to align with those I put forward. Mr Rotherham has gone further, threatening legal action to challenge the validity of the consultation process, which was originally supposed to last a mere 21 days but will now remain open throughout August. Knowsley Council has also got involved this week:

These interventions are, of course, very welcome, but there remains much to do. There are many challenges facing the railways, with reliability perhaps being the greatest. An incident on my journey home earlier this week illustrated how, even for a seasoned commuter, ticket offices remain a vital resource.

Although I live in Kirkby, while a Rail Replacement Bus runs between there and Rainford it usually works out faster and more convenient for me to get a bus to Huyton and travel from there to Wigan North Western. (You know a Rail Replacement Bus is seriously inconvenient when it’s easier to double the mileage per journey than it is to use it, but I digress.)

For now, until Headbolt Lane finally opens, for me it’s usually faster to travel via Huyton than via Rainford. However, on Tuesday 1 August, both the 16:50 from Blackpool North to Liverpool Lime Street and the 16:54 service to the same station but starting at Wigan were cancelled. This would clearly have knock-on effects on bus connections and seriously extend my day.

So, I took myself down to the Ticket Office, where a really helpful member of staff was able to confirm that, not only was the 17:21 to Lime Street running – which would get me to Huyton but leave me with a long connection for a bus – so was the 17:12 to Rainford from Wigan Wallgate, the ‘other’ station across the road. From there, I could pick up the Replacement Bus and then the 21, which terminates almost on my doorstep.

Some mental mathematics later – trying to calculate arrival times in my head isn’t a natural strength – I’d decided it was quicker and less stressful to cross the road and head for Rainford. But! The return portion of the ticket I’d bought that morning at Huyton wouldn’t be valid on the Kirkby line. Fortunately, Wigan Wallgate has a staffed Ticket Office who were able to both confirm my train was still on time and sell me a new ticket.

Northern Trains seem to be struggling with services between Liverpool Lime Street and Wigan North Western this week. The 07:00 departure from Huyton has been cancelled on both mornings following my convoluted journey home. Under the proposals as they stand, ‘Journey Maker’ cover at this station wouldn’t have been available early enough for passengers to be informed about their options until after that service had been due to depart, whereas on both days there have been staff on the station to help anyone who needed advice on how to make their journey.

There is a rising tide of anger from the general public, who seem to be broadly against the proposals. Even before the deadline was extended, the consultation had received more than 170,000 responses. As of today, that figure had risen to over 315,000. A petition calling on the Government to Require train operators keep ticket offices and platform staff at train stations had, at the time of writing, received more than 68,000 signatures. The Government responded to the petition on 14 July stating, amongst other things, that:

Together with the rail industry, we want to improve and modernise the experience for passengers by moving staff out from behind the ticket office screens to provide more help and advice in customer-focused roles. We have been clear that no currently staffed station will become unstaffed as a result of this reform.

The problem with that statement is that it simply isn’t true. Research by the Association of British Commuters found that “At two midlands operators, around 94 stations are set to become completely unstaffed once the ticket office consultations are over.”

According to the pressure group, “The only substitute for station staff at the above locations will be unscheduled “mobile staffing”, denying access not only to ticketing services but also station facilities such as toilets and heated waiting rooms.” Unstaffed stations can be pretty bleak places at the best of times, but they’ll seem doubly so to passengers stood on platforms in wintry conditions while waiting rooms are locked shut.

The extension of the consultation is helpful, in that people who might not have had the opportunity to contribute will now be able to have their say. For most people, the best way to do that is by visiting the Transport Focus website. However, anyone who lives in London should get involved by going to the pages provided by London Travelwatch. You could also sign the petition mentioned (and linked to) above.

I use the train regularly and I’ve relied on Ticket Offices this week to help me get home, so what chance do occasional users have if these vital facilities are taken away?

No-one is suggesting that the railways don’t need to change; of course, there are issues that need addressing. But closing ticket offices isn’t the way to deliver a cost-effective, customer friendly network.