Plans to close hundreds of rail ticket offices in England have been scrapped with Transport Secretary Mark Harper saying that the government has asked train operators to withdraw their proposals because they failed to meet high passenger standards.
However, a source has said that rail bosses were “furious”, saying the original plans had been approved by the Department for Transport.
The proposals had sparked concerns from unions and disability groups.
The plans were put forward by train operators as a way to save money. They had come under pressure from the government to cut costs after being supported heavily during the Covid pandemic.
Train companies said that only 12% of tickets were now bought at station kiosks.
But passenger watchdogs Transport Focus and London Travelwatch objected to the proposals, saying they had received 750,000 responses from individuals and organisations in a public consultation.
These included “powerful and passionate concerns” about the potential changes, they said.
The watchdogs said they had secured significant changes, including getting companies to revert to existing times for when staff would be available at many stations.
But serious concerns remained, including ticket machine capability, accessibility and how passenger assistance and information would be delivered in the future.
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”.
But MPs had warned in a letter last week that the plans went “too far, too fast”.
Announcing the decision to reverse the closures, Mr Harper said the government had made it “clear to the rail industry throughout the process that any resulting proposals must meet a high threshold of serving passengers”.
“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.”
Labour’s shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh called it “shambolic” and a “humiliating climbdown”, saying the cancelled plans had been “a colossal waste of taxpayers’ money”.
A Labour government, she said, would bring about a “publicly owned and unified rail network”.
The RMT union, which had campaigned against the ticket office closures, described Tuesday’s decision as a victory.
The planned closures were the latest flashpoint between train companies and unions in their long-running dispute over pay, jobs and working conditions.
It led to several protests and threats of legal challenges from disability campaigners and from five Labour metro mayors.
But the body representing train companies, the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), consistently defended the proposals.
The decision to backtrack on the plans has caused anger among train bosses, a senior rail source has said.
“They have been made to sell these plans, defend them and change them to try and get them over the line. All in the face of the inevitable onslaught of criticism.
“All of these plans were approved by officials and ministers at the DfT. To say they fell short of their expectations is totally disingenuous,” the source said.
The RDG said the closure plans that had been put forward were about the “changing needs of customers in the smartphone era” and the “significant financial challenge” following the pandemic.
It said it would continue to look at other ways to “improve passenger experience while delivering value for the taxpayer”.
Disability campaigners called the result “bittersweet”.
Transport for All, a disabled-led organisation, called it “the best possible outcome”, but added that while the government was “eventually swayed, it is appalling that disabled people’s concerns were dismissed for so long”.