Each train station ticket purchased costs £100 to the taxpayers.

Each train station ticket purchased costs £100 to the taxpayers.

Crowthorne is a small Berkshire village that happens to have a very useful railway station. Northbound trains on Great Western Railway (GWR) run to Reading – the key junction for points west and north – via Wokingham, which offers a change of train to London Waterloo. In the opposite direction, GWR runs to Gatwick airport via Guildford.

This is the location where you would expect the ticket office to be bustling with travelers making complex travel arrangements. The ticket office in Crowthorne should ideally have staff available throughout the day, but currently it is only open from 6:45am to 10:30am on weekdays, matching the busy morning commute.

We will analyze the rush at Crowthorne based on the 2022-23 data from GWR, which shows that 26,000 passengers purchased or retrieved tickets in a year. This prompts the question: what is the average number of tickets sold by the ticket office staff per day?


During the span of 12 months, there were only 263 tickets sold out of the 261 weekdays. This highlights the phrase “single ticket” in a literal sense.

The assistance of a skilled and knowledgeable GWR employee may be necessary for the person purchasing a ticket. However, the cost of staffing the ticket office is estimated to be at least £100 per day. This means that selling a single ticket to Reading for £5.80 is a costly venture.

This situation is occurring in an industry that is currently experiencing a loss of £4,000 every minute, in addition to the regular taxpayer subsidy of £12,300 per minute. Considering the large amounts of money being invested into a dysfunctional industry, employing someone solely to sell one ticket per day is a matter that needs to be addressed.

As directed by government officials, GWR suggested that the employee relocate from their position behind the window to assist travelers in a broader capacity. The railway unions argue that this first step would ultimately result in job losses.

The state of labor relations in the railway industry is deplorable, as the RMT and Aslef continue to engage in prolonged and hostile disagreements with employers over pay and working conditions. However, is it a wise decision to allocate approximately £25,000 every year for an individual to be stationed behind a screen at Crowthorne station, awaiting the arrival of a single customer?

On Tuesday morning, 31 October, that question became academic. The transport secretary, Mark Harper, announced the job will remain the same.

It is simple to reverse the government’s railway policy. All you have to do is consult the government.

Earlier this month, Rishi Sunak overturned 14 years of agreement among politicians about the necessity of High Speed 2 to improve the railway system in northern England. He scrapped the proposed HS2 line connecting Birmingham and Manchester.

Mr Harper has now declared that the decision to close ticket offices and reassign station staff to more satisfying positions is not a wise one.

The Rail Delivery Group (RDG), responsible for representing England’s top train companies, must have been caught off guard by recent developments. They are in a difficult position as they must please both government officials who hold management contracts with the rail firms.

In June, the government requested train operators to devise innovative plans to shut down ticket offices and reassign employees.

The train operators followed their instructions accordingly. The plan to close ticket offices and replace them with a bonfire caused widespread outcry from commuters, particularly those with disabilities.

The ministers have reached a decision to maintain the current state of affairs. It seems as though an election is on the horizon.

The transportation secretary has requested that train companies retract their proposals.

Jacqueline Starr, the chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group, responded in a courteous manner without explicitly stating that the suggestions were a result of ministerial requests. Instead, she highlighted that rail companies collaborated with passenger organizations to enhance the initial plans. This included maintaining staff levels, enhancing ticket vending machines, and designating a singular “welcome point” at stations in consultation with accessibility groups and passenger organizations.

Ms Starr stated that the proposed changes aimed to meet the evolving demands of customers in the age of smartphone technology, while also considering the financial difficulties faced by the railway industry as it works towards recovering from the effects of the pandemic.

As the use of ticket offices continues to decline, we aim to provide our employees with more fulfilling and gratifying career opportunities that focus on providing passengers with more personalized in-person assistance.

However, the current situation remains unchanged. The Crowthorne Anomaly, which I will elaborate on, appears to be unsustainable.

The future secretary of transportation, regardless of their gender, may choose to overlook the issue and continue relying on taxpayer funds to staff the Berkshire ticket office. However, if there are no serious discussions about managing a financially sustainable railway that provides quality service to all types of passengers, the system will inevitably deteriorate.

Source: independent.co.uk