A process to shut nearly all of Britain’s railway station ticket offices could begin as early as next week, the RMT union has warned.
Almost 1,000 offices are believed to be targeted for closure under government proposals to cut costs and “modernise” the railway, although ministers have for months shied away from spelling out the extent of the plans, in the face of concern from their own MPs as well as unions and passenger groups.
However, an announcement of public consultations, the first stage in the formal process, will come in early July, according to rail sources quoted by the Association of British Commuters, a campaign group.
Unions and campaigners have warned that cutting ticket offices will make it harder for vulnerable passengers and people with disabilities to travel by rail.
With only about one in eight tickets now bought at a ticket office, the industry argues the public would be better served by moving staff from offices to broader roles on station concourses.
The Department for Transport did not comment on the timing, while the Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operators, said staff would be informed before any public announcement.
The fate of ticket offices has been a significant element in the dispute over pay for rail workers, which has led to repeated strike action. While RMT members at Network Rail voted to accept a 9% pay offer over two years, the union has rejected a similar pay offer from train operators, with temporary guarantees over job security regarded as insufficient as many existing roles are set to be scrapped.
Negotiators have been unable to seal agreement on reforms as part of the pay dispute, but ministers now want firms to push ahead with changes.
The smaller TSSA union – which has been rocked by internal scandal – earlier voted to accept the deal, although it said it remained opposed in principle to shutting down ticket offices.
Responding to rumours of mass ticket office closures next week, the RMT general secretary, Mick Lynch, said he would “bring into effect the full industrial force of the union to stop any plans”.
He said: “The train operating companies and the government must understand that we will vigorously oppose any moves to close ticket offices.
“We will not meekly sit by and allow thousands of jobs to be sacrificed or see disabled and vulnerable passengers left unable to use the railways as a result.”
The union has already called three national strikes on Thursday 20, Saturday 22 and Saturday 29 July.
A government source said Lynch was “trying to scaremonger”. They added: “We’ve made no secret about the fact that the railways need to reform in order to survive, but this should be in a way that works for passengers.”
A spokesperson for the Rail Delivery Group said the industry had been “open and honest about the need for the railway to evolve”, but negotiations were continuing to “go round in circles” on reforms including moving staff from ticket offices to concourse.
They added: “While the industry is now looking at how to move forward, any changes would be subject to employee and public consultations.
“Staff always remain front of mind so as you would expect from a responsible employer, if and when the time comes for proposals on ticket offices to be published, they will be the first to know.”
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