Train operators in Wiltshire have been warned that ticket office closures could drive elderly and vulnerable people off the railways and that staff could ultimately lose their jobs.

Richard Cowell, chair of the West Wiltshire Rail Users Group, says Great Western Railway and South Western Railway may not get the result it expects if ticket offices close at seven of the county’s railway stations.

Mr Cowell said: “GWR may ‘expect customers to switch to buying tickets digitally’ but many people, particularly older ones are not adept in the use of smartphones or the Internet to purchase their tickets and will be deterred by the thought of having to use a TVM (ticket vending machine) so will simply stop using the railway.”

The country’s train operators, including GWR and SWR, are consulting on proposals to close their ticket offices except at large stations. In Wiltshire, this would affect Bradford on Avon, Chippenham, Pewsey, Swindon, Trowbridge, Warminster and Westbury stations.

Wiltshire Times: Not all passengers may be able to cope with using ticket vending machines, the West Wiltshire Rail Users Group has warned. Photo: Trevor Porter 69989-4 Not all passengers may be able to cope with using ticket vending machines, the West Wiltshire Rail Users Group has warned. Photo: Trevor Porter 69989-4 (Image: Trevor Porter)

GWR says the number of people buying tickets at most of the offices has dropped to below 15 per cent as more passengers now use online booking or buy at TVMs.

It says: “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. Subject to consultation, ticket offices could be phased out over a number of years.”

Urging Transport Focus, which is coordinating consultation responses, to reject the Rail Delivery Group proposals, Mr Cowell says: “We strongly object to the proposals by GWR to move staff from inside of the ticket offices to other areas of the station under the pretext that in ticket offices they are under-used.

“Although the ticket offices at these stations are only open part-time, when they are open they are extremely busy, well used and highly valued by customers.

“GWR state that closing of ticket offices will “bring station retailing up-to-date” and “respond to the generational shift in customer behaviour”.

“The most successful retail businesses look to gain (not lose) customers and sell products or services in whatever way the customer wants leading to higher overall sales.

“We believe these proposals are inspired by what works for London with its huge volume of frequent users and takes no account of behaviours and the different demographic at rural country stations.

“Manned stations not only prevent loss of revenue and deter vandalism, but also stimulate economic regeneration and prosperity in our local communities.

“The manning of ticket offices allows other station facilities such as toilets and safe waiting rooms to be open and available for the use of passengers.

“Investing in welcoming and knowledgeable ticket office staff is a no-brainer if we are serious about enabling the public to move away from the car into greener, more sustainable forms of travel.

“We need to make travelling by train much easier and more appealing if we are to achieve this.

“The proposals by GWR to move staff out of ticket offices and onto the platform (working the same hours) will not save any money because staff still have to be paid, so we can only surmise that in the long term the objective is to dispense with their services altogether and relocating them is a pre-cursor to this.”

At Bradford on Avon and in Trowbridge, the town councils have launched petitions objecting to the closures.

To sign the Bradford on Avon petition click here.

To sign a national petition, click here.

To sign the Trowbridge petition, click here.