PROPOSALS to shut railway booking offices in Teignbridge this autumn have been condemned by local disabled groups.
The three stations – Newton Abbot, Teignmouth and Dawlish – are among the 1,000 offices earmarked for closure as early as September.
The closures, touted as part of a modernisation programme, will see hundreds of staff being made redundant. GWR say just 15 per cent of ticket sales take place at the booking offices.’
One local man, who has limited mobility, said: ‘As a frequent rail user, I know many elderly people who do not have Smartphones or are not computer literate and cannot book online in advance.
‘And what about people who are blind or with limited vision? They can’t operate the machines. Wheelchair users cant use the ticket machines as they simply can’t reach.
‘So many people rely on the human contact to find their train times and cheapest tickets.
‘From a personal viewpoint I depend on guards or station staff to help me on and off some trains. Will they no longer be on duty?’
GWR have reassured customers that some staff will take on roles as platform assistants.
The move has been driven by government plans to save costs, and workers were only recently told of the closure plan.
GWR state the plans are currently in the consultation phase, but it seems likely the closures in Devon will begin this September.
A spokesman said: ‘The consultations are happening as part of an industry-wide set of proposals that would mean ticket office staff would work on station platforms and concourses where they can be closer to customers.
‘With 85 per cent of ticket sales taking place outside a ticket office on the GWR network, we think it makes sense to put our people where they can be most help to customers.’
Local MPs have said they are keeping a watchful eye on the situation.
Anne Marie Morris, Newton Abbot MP whose constituency includes the three Teignbridge stations, said: ‘It is both unacceptable and irresponsible for GWR to propose closing our ticket offices at Dawlish and Teignmouth railway stations in October!
'Not only is it the wrong thing to do, but it is also being sprung on our community without adequate consultation or notice. This will not do! A quarter of passengers use our local ticket offices, far above the 15% average figure being used to justify closures.
‘Redeploying staff when these stations are already often unmanned at the entry point outside peak hours is not a solution. With only one automated machine at each station there is no fallback for breakage, or for those with failing eyesight or reduced mobility.
'Even when working these machines are complicated to use and can’t cope with unusual journeys or answer questions. If the machine has gobbled your cash without delivering a ticket being able to buy one on board- if you can get through barriers- isn’t a solution.
‘That Newton Abbot station risks suffering the same fate but on an extended time scale is no comfort. We have but one railway line in the South West peninsula.
'Having spent millions to ensure its survival after the sea wall was washed away along with the track at Dawlish recognising its importance to our economy and way of life why do this?
'We need more passengers not less!’
Central Devon MP Mel Stride, whose constituency includes Tiverton, said: ‘I have received assurances that no currently staffed station will be unstaffed as a result of industry changes.
‘It is important that any passenger who requires additional support, whether to purchase tickets or for any other need, can get that help and I will be keeping a close eye on ensuring this is the case at local stations in our constituency.’
The RMT (National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers) has now weighed into the argument, condemning what they call ‘fat cat’ train operators and the government for attempting to ‘decimate the railways’. On the back of their announcement, they are issuing statutory redundancy notices for hundreds of railway workers, something RMT states it will fiercely oppose.
RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch said: ‘The decision is a savage attack on railway workers, their families and the travelling public. Travellers will be forced to rely on apps and remote mobile teams to be available to assist them rather than having trained staff on stations.
‘This is catastrophic for elderly, disabled and vulnerable passengers trying to access the rail network.
‘It is clear that the whole enterprise of closing ticket offices has got nothing to do with modernisation and is a thinly veiled plan to gut our railways of station staff. Fat cat rail operators and the government do not care one jot about passenger safety, or a well-staffed and friendly railway open to all to use. They want to cut costs, make profits for shareholders, and run the network into the ground without a thought as to the vital role the rail industry plays in the country’s economy.’
Mrs Morris had these words for rail travellers in her constituency: 'I would encourage everyone to get writing to me, the minister, GWR and to make a submission to the consultation.
'Together we can make our voices heard- loudly! No closure please!’