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Sweden: the land with no rail booking offices, yet many ways to buy train tickets

Sweden: the land with no rail booking offices, yet many ways to buy train tickets

Simon Calder, also known as The Man Who Pays His Way, has been writing about travel for The Independent since 1994. In his weekly opinion column, he explores a key travel issue – and what it means for you.

Stockholm’s grand and central railway station feels like a Scandinavian cathedral: a shrine to mobility in the northern world. Devotees of the rail network enter a vast and extravagantly decorated ticket hall – which, in decades past, will have marked the inspirational start to many adventures by train.

I spent a few hours there on Saturday: admiring the architecture, enjoying the sound and motion of a rail hub and exploring in some detail the ticket hall. In it, you can buy a pint of Murphy’s stout at O’Leary’s Bar; change money at the Forex counter; or order freshly prepared sashimi at Sushi Yama. But what you can’t do is buy a train ticket.

You will be aware that train operators are proposing mass closures of rail ticket offices at stations in England. Many disability campaigners as well as the RMT union are implacably opposed to the idea. A big demonstration is planned for Thursday 31 August at Westminster. If you want to register your views on the proposals you must do so by Friday 1 September (when, by the way, most rail services in England will shut down for the day as train drivers belonging to Aslef walk out).

The government insists that service to the passenger will actually be increased, because staff will be taken from behind a glass screen and will be better able to assist travellers who need some care. The RMT says it is a job-destruction scheme that will trigger 2,300 redundancies.

My best guess is that proposals will be seriously watered down so that initially only smaller, quieter stations lose their booking offices. But to find out what life for rail passengers without ticket offices feels like, I have been exploring western Sweden.

Stockholm Central is the natural place to start. Emerging from the capital’s excellent Tunnelbana metro system, you can follow the signs promising “Tickets”. But once you reach the main concourse, they vanish. I was looking perplexed when a chap in a high-visibility jacket asked – in Swedish and English – if I needed help. Where, I wondered, is the ticket office?

“There isn’t one,” he replied. It closed early in 2021, along with the nation’s only two other…

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