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.
Just the place, then, where you might imagine the ticket office to be busy with passengers booking complicated journeys. Crowthorne’s ticket office would ideally be staffed all day long, but at present the hours run only from 6.45am to 10.30am from Monday to Friday – timed to coincide with the morning rush.
Let’s look at that rush. According to the 2022-23 figures from GWR, 26,000 passengers bought or collected tickets at Crowthorne during the course of a year. So how many tickets do the staff working in the ticket office actually sell each day on average?
Yes: in the 261 weekdays during those 12 months, just 263 tickets were sold. Never has the term “single ticket” been more appropriate.
It may well be that the sole purchaser of a ticket needs the help of a well-trained and experienced GWR employee. But staffing that ticket office must cost at least £100 per day. Selling a £5.80 single to Reading is an extremely expensive business.
This is happening in an industry that is currently losing £4,000 per minute on top of the usual taxpayer subsidy of £12,300 per minute. Given the eyewatering sums being pumped into a dysfunctional industry, paying someone solely to sell an average of one ticket a day is an issue that must be challenged.
Under orders from ministers, GWR proposed that the staff member should move out from behind the glass window to help travellers more widely. The rail unions maintain that this initial move would inevitably end in redundancy.
Industrial relations on the railway are appalling, with the RMT and Aslef locked in long and bitter disputes over pay and working arrangements with the employers. But is the best use of (let’s guess) £25,000 annually for someone to be ready behind a screen at Crowthorne station waiting for the daily customer to turn up?
On Tuesday morning, 31 October, that question became academic. The transport secretary, Mark Harper, announced the job will remain the same.
Reversing government policy on the railways is easy. Just ask the…