Railway station ticket offices in the UK are in the news at the moment. Unfortunately, it’s not for good reasons. Under current proposals from the Department for Transport, over 1000 ticket offices at stations are being scheduled for closure. That includes all ticket offices on South Western Railway, in project co-lead Mike’s area, and those serving Leamington Spa and Warwick, close to the Modern Records Centre. Of the three project partners, only the National Railway Museum will have a ticket office at its nearest station, York. We think the plans are misguided and will have a great many negative impacts – not all of which appear to have been considered.
Chief amongst the problems is the question of accessibility. For passengers who might need help buying a ticket or getting on a train, the lack of ticket office and station staff might now mean they simply cannot travel. This is potentially discriminatory and possibly illegal – though doesn’t seem to have featured in the thinking behind the proposals. A part of this might also relate to digital poverty – we can’t simply rely on everyone understanding or having access to online ticket sales. Passenger safety and security is also at stake. Research has shown that staffed station environments enable travel on grounds of personal security
Finally – what happens when the machines aren’t working? When you need advice? When you need some other (non-ticket) form of assistance? There are so many things that ticket office staff do beyond ‘just’ selling tickets – all of which will be lost at the vast majority of stations on our network. These will introduce very real barriers to using the railway system, at a time when we urgently need to be encouraging use of more environmentally sustainable transport.
There’s a consultation going on at the moment about this, and we’d urge all who are concerned to provide their views – you can do so here. The RMT has also started a petition to oppose the cuts – available here.
But where does the project fit in? Whilst the vast majority of the accidents included in the project database are for more manual grades, a few ticket office staff do appear. More commonly for their era, they were known as ‘booking clerks,’ but the roles they were undertaking were broadly comparable. By looking at these cases we can not only see ticket office staff in the past, and their accidents, but we can recognise the many activities they’ve undertaken over the years.
We start with temporary booking clerk Emma Eastway, 23, employed on the North Eastern Railway at Lemington station on the edge of Newcastle. On 21 February 1922 she left the booking office to go and collect tickets on the down platform. However, when she jumped down from the edge of the platform, a drop of around two and a half feet, she sprained her knee on some boarding. The investigation found Eastway responsible, as there was a ramp down to an authorised crossing route. In addition, she ‘habitually ignored’ the Station Master’s instruction to use the ramp, though he was also censured for not enforcing his orders (1922 Quarter 1, Appendix C, p. 46).
Booking clerk Joseph Southward wasn’t so fortunate, however. On 2 August 1922 he was at work at Furness Abbey station in Lancashire, on the Furness Railway. He was helping a man and woman book tickets for travel the next day. After a passenger train arrived on the down line, he ran out of the booking hall on the up platform. He was hurrying to get to the entrance of the down platform passenger subway, to collect the tickets of any arriving passengers. He intended to cross the up line via a foot crossing, but neglected to check if it was clear. Sadly, it wasn’t, and he was hit and killed by an oncoming goods train. He was 17. The investigation, undertaken by Inspector Charles Campbell of the Railway Inspectorate, concluded that Southward had shown a ‘lack of care’ by not ensuring it was safe to cross the line. However, he also observed that it was usual practice at Furness Abbey for staff to cross the lines via the foot crossing rather than the subway. Campbell ordered that this be stopped immediately – though he didn’t have the power to enforce that, and we don’t know if this was followed (1922 Quarter 3, Appendix C, p. 21).
Unfortunately this broad situation was repeated in the case of Southern Railway booking clerk T Noble, 19, at Betchworth in Surrey, on 1 November 1927. He was warned that trains were arriving from both directions at the same time, but appeared to have overlooked this important information. He rushed to get to platform on the other side of the station, using the foot crossing – but was caught by the engine of the train at the platform he was on. Inspector JPS Main concluded that Noble’s ‘impulsive action’ was the cause of the accident – though also that changes in practice would be beneficial. He observed that the station didn’t meet modern requirements for structural clearance and equipment – a problem which persists to this day (1927 Quarter 4, Appendix B, p.32).
Ticket office staff also had to get money and tickets to and from stations. On 5 September 1937, Garfield Smith was working in Cardiff. Employed by the Great Western Railway as a parcel clerk, on this occasion he was acting as a booking clerk. He was carrying a case with tickets and cash from Queen Street towards Woodville Road Halt. Close to the Halt ramp some portion of a passing train came in contact with him or the bag. He fell foul of the rail – one hand and leg were run over. The path narrowed near the Halt due to point rodding, and the state accident investigation thought it likely Smith’s bag was struck by an axle box. Inspector William Worthy Cooke thought that the route being used – involving an unaccompanied individual walking beside a busy route – should be reviewed. He left this with the GWR, noting that if it continued then a walking permit should be issued each time (1937 Quarter 3, Appendix C, p.44).
Finally, on 8 April 1919 Caledonian Railway booking clerk HH Bullock died at Mossend station in Lanarkshire, Scotland. We know about his case as a National Union of Railwaymen representative was present at the Inquiry into Bullock’s death, and that record appears in our recent trade union data release. Bullock fell between the platform and some wagons, though how or why this happened wasn’t recorded. Either way, his case, and those of the other ticket office staff we’ve mentioned, goes to show the sorts of dangers they were exposed to as part of their jobs.
Ticket office staff have been the very visible face of the railway industry for a very long time. They’ve provided guidance and assistance to passengers and in keeping the system moving. Simply to close the vast majority of ticket offices feels like a heavy-handed response to a perceived problem – and a mistake, in terms of the usability and accessibility of the railway network. We’re strongly opposed to ticket office closures, and urge you express your concerns too!