CALLS have been made to reclassify Morpeth Railway Station in a bid to save its ticket office.
The service has been under threat since a report commissioned by the Department for Transport recommended the closure of all such facilities at Category E stations, including Morpeth, in a bid to cut costs.
The South East Northumberland Rail User Group (SENRUG) disputes the findings, but it is also taking action to try to safeguard the Morpeth ticket office by seeking an upgrade for the station to Category D.
Passenger numbers already exceed the 250,000 annual figure required for the status, with 264,220 people using the station last year.
SENRUG Chairman Dennis Fancett said: “This goes back to the McNulty Report, which we had several months ago. Most of it was good, but one of the recommendations we are extremely concerned about is that ticket offices at all Category E stations should be closed permanently.
“Morpeth is currently Category E, but when we looked at how the categories are defined we saw that the criteria for Category D is that it should have over
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250,000 passengers a year. We have found that Morpeth now has that number.
“We are hoping that Morpeth will move up to that category and then the ticket office won’t have to close.”
An annual review of station classification is now under way by Network Rail and the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC), but Mr Fancett warned there is still uncertainty about whether Morpeth will qualify for an upgrade.
“It is not plain sailing,” he said.
“We know that Morpeth meets the passenger number requirement, but there is also a revenue requirement and we don’t know whether it meets that. The second point is that when they do this review they might amend the criteria so at the moment it needs to have more than 250,000 passengers, but that could be amended to 300,000.
“We are still very concerned about Morpeth Station because we believe very strongly that the ticket office should remain open, and be open even longer than it is now in fact.
“An important point about Morpeth is that the ticket office is also the waiting room and access to the toilet so when it is closed in the afternoon there is no waiting room and no toilet for passengers to use.
“People do need assistance as well. I was talking to someone the other day who didn’t really know what ticket they wanted or how to use the Internet to buy one so I told them to go the staff at the station because they are very helpful. They can give you all the different options and some people need that.
“It is only a few years ago that Northern Rail was thinking of extending the ticket office hours so it is difficult to think how they could save money by closing it.”
Morpeth Town Council’s Planning and Transport Committee has backed SENRUG’s calls.
Coun David Parker said: “This is an extremely good organisation, which has done some excellent work in looking after the interests of rail passengers who travel to and from Morpeth, or might be persuaded to in the future.
“It has pointed out that at least one of the targets in relation to the station going up to a new category has been passed.”
The committee will write to Network Rail in support of the calls.
Northern Rail has confirmed it will be submitting figures to ATOC as part of the review.