Campaign to save ticket offices at Downham Market and Thetford railway stations
Rail passengers in Norfolk are being urged to back a campaign which aims to save ticket offices in Downham Market and Thetford.
Together for Transport launched the Save Our Stations campaign after it was revealed 675 railway stations, including the two Norfolk stations, could be left unstaffed and see ticket services replaced with an electronic machine.
The list of stations appeared in a government-commissioned report drawn up by Sir Roy McNulty on how to achieve savings in the railway industry and now the Department for Transport wants to hear from the public about the proposed closures.
Both South West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss and the Fen Line Users Association have backed the campaign to save the ticket offices.
Ms Truss said: 'I have called on the government to ensure that any future franchise agreement maintains ticket office facilities at Downham Market and Thetford stations.
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'Both stations are experiencing an increase in passenger numbers with Downham Market seeing an impressive 13pc rise in passenger numbers last year.
'At Thetford station, I believe that there is the opportunity to have some creative thinking about how ticketing provision is made.
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'I would want to see every effort made to ensure proper facilities are available not only for local residents but as part of the overall drive to attract visitors to the area and generate growth for the local economy.'
West Norfolk mayor Colin Sampson, who is also chairman of the Fen Line Users Association, said: 'We suspect a lot of what is in the report will end up in new franchise agreements.
'How they will do that we don't know but we don't see that rail passengers are going to benefit from this proposal.
'Nothing is written in stone yet but we do not support the concept of closing or reducing the hours of ticket offices.
'Having staff at the station gives a feeling of security to rail users and on our line, staff are very good and answer questions quickly and correctly. We don't think any mechanised system can replace that.'
Town councillor Jenny Groom has also backed the campaign and said it would 'dreadful' for Downham Market if the station was unmanned.
Rail passengers are being urged to complete a questionnaire as part of Together for Transport's campaign which is supported by the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA).
Rob Archer, TSSA spokesman for West Norfolk, said: 'This is a chance for us to find out what rail users really think about their train station. Fares are continuing to rise, but station services and staffing is under threat.
'We want to know what the travelling public think about these service cuts but also what we can do together to improve stations for everyone.'
Department of Transport figures show ticket offices have been the most expensive way of selling tickets and that there has been an increase in people buying tickets through self-service ticket machines and online over the past five years.
Last month, the government department released a report entitled Reforming our Railways: Putting the Customer First, which sets out the Government's vision for the railways, alongside the policies that are needed to realise that vision.
The report says it may not be 'possible or appropriate' for ticket office opening hours to continue at current levels with the need to put the railways on a sustainable footing for the future.
But the report adds: 'We recognise that passengers can feel very strongly about ticket office opening hours, and before we could agree to any such changes we would need to be confident that passengers would continue to enjoy ready access to ticket-buying opportunities.
'The needs of the elderly and disabled would have to be carefully considered, including options for access to assisted purchase channels for those who may find it particularly difficult to use a ticket machine or to buy their ticket online.'
The report has now been put out for public consultation which will end on June 28.
First Capital Connect, which operates services between King's Lynn and King's Cross, has said it has no plans to change ticket office opening hours in the remaining months of its franchise.
The ticket office at Downham Market is currently open Monday to Friday 6am to 5.10pm and Saturday 7am to 1.30pm. At Thetford railway station the ticket office is open Monday to Saturday from 7am to 1.30pm.
To view the Department for Transport's report visit www.dft.gov.uk/publications/reforming-our-railways. To show your support for the campaign visit www.togetherfortransport.org.