Tuesday, 17 November 2009

York barrier plans scrapped!

Well, it has certainly been an eventful week. We heard last Monday that National Express East Coast had launched an appeal against the refusal of the barrier plans by City of York Council, so everyone was gearing up to write letters to the Planning Inspectorate. Of course, it seemed pretty remarkable that a company that would cease trading within days would want to lodge an appeal at its own expense to install ticket barriers at a station in which it no longer had any financial interest.

Anyway, Friday 13th November turned out to be anything but unlucky because, apart from being NXEC's last day holding the East Coast franchise, the DfT also announced that the barrier plans were being withdrawn "to maintain through access for non-passengers." So that means people will still be able to enjoy crossing over the famous footbridge without travelling by train.

This is all excellent news for the city, though the arguments about the barriers were much wider than simply a matter of through access. There were concerns about the inconvenience to passengers from the barriers - delays and congestion that would deter people from travelling by train - particularly as evidence from elsewhere suggested that the gates were able to handle far fewer passengers than originally claimed. Travellers at Leeds had to cope with months of disruption, and for at least several weeks, the barriers were operating in "accept all tickets" mode - that is to say any ticket, valid or not, opens the barriers.

This "sod the passenger" approach was also evinced in such matters as the proposed secondary access points (the NRM entrance and the cycle racks/ executive car park) where there would be no permanent staff presence. A ticket machine (possibly not accepting cash) would be available, but if the limited range of tickets there wasn't any use, you would have to walk right round the outside of the station to get to the ticket office.

The crux of the matter was that no-one was willing to present a coherent business case for the barriers at a main line station that handles very little suburban or short-distance traffic. Problems with local services such as the Harrogate train could have been dealt with by spot checks on people coming off those trains - better still if a ticket machine were provided at Poppleton station to allow people to buy a ticket before boarding. However, determined not to be defeated, the barrier enthusiasts now have the DfT's support to accelerate the implementation of the barrier scheme at King's Cross.

The proposed new barriers there will cover platforms 1-8 (platforms 9-11, which deal with most of the suburban traffic, already have gates). These bays deal almost entirely with trains that do not stop for some time after leaving King's Cross - many will run to Cambridge, St Neot's, Peterborough or even York before making their first stop. Are we really to believe that on-train checks are not possible in this length of time?

Still, enough ranting for now. One certainly hopes that the DfT's statement will give more power to the elbow of anti-barrier campaigners in Sheffield, where through access across the footbridge is a prime concern. If there's one thing this episode shows, it's that people power can work. Because the good burghers of York were willing to kick up an almighty fuss, the powers that be decided the barriers were more trouble than they were worth. Let's hope the people of Sheffield manage to defeat the scheme there. At the time of writing, there are over 1,000 planning objections to the barriers!

Sunday, 2 August 2009

York planning committee rejects barrier plans

Well, sorry about the break as I've been otherwise occupied with one thing and another, but the momentous news is that on 16th July, the West and Central Planning Committee for the City of York rejected the plans for the barriers at the railway station. Unfortunately, because the application was for Listed Building Consent and not planning permission, this decision had to be made purely on the grounds of the aesthetics, though this had the ironic effect of making the long and turgid justification statement made by National Express somewhat redundant.

The meeting itself considered the item for a couple of hours and the whole discussion was prefaced by a long speech from the council's solicitor. It was quite clear that people were almost tying themselves in knots because of the need to avoid any wider issues being mentioned - even those as simple as the fact that the station toilets will be contained within the cordon.

The outcome: the committee split 6:3 against the barriers, with councillors of all parties coming out against the gates. For the record, Cllr Brian Watson (Lab), Cllr Denise Bowgett (Lab), Cllr Ian Gillies (Con), Cllr Sue Sunderland (Lib Dem), Cllr Ann Reid (Lib Dem), and Cllr Sian Wiseman (Con) all voted to reject the plans. Honourable mention is also due to York Green Party, not represented on the committee, who have campaigned against the barrier plans throughout. Thanks also to the three people who spoke against the barriers at the meeting: Janet Rowntree, Jonathan Tyler and last but definitely not least CABYS chair Verna Campbell. A job well done.

This is a small victory and of course National Express may, if they wish to do so, appeal against the refusal of Listed Building Consent, so watch this space for further developments. This could prove interesting with the recent debacle over the East Coast Main Line franchise, since National Express may be a trifle reluctant to spend around £1m installing barriers as part of an agreement over a franchise they are about to lose. It will be interesting to see what the government decides to do when they take over the ECML and whether they wish to take responsibility for pushing through the barriers themselves.

One small aside - just a month or two before admitting they couldn't continue with their obligations, NXEC rebranded almost all of the signs in York station - which were perfectly serviceable apart from the fact that they were in the colours of GNER, the erstwhile franchise holders. Nice to know that rail fares are being spent on things that really make a difference!

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

NXEC defaults on East Coast franchise

So the news has come through today that National Express have told the government that they're unable to meet their commitment to pay £1.4 billion to the taxpayer over lifetime of their franchise, as a result of which the government will take over the franchise and run it for a year. So after months of being told that National Express "must be presumed to know what they are doing," it turns out after all that they haven't a clue what they're doing, as we all suspected in the first place.

Meanwhile, NX are trying to hang onto their other two profitable franchises, c2c and NX East Anglia, though the government at the moment seems determined to take them away as punishment for their default on the East Coast route.

As an aside, National Express spent a few thousand pounds (we don't know exactly how much) a couple of months back on "rebranding" some perfectly adequate signage at York station for no reason other than that it happened to be in GNER colours; so no doubt in a year's time or so there'll be an excuse to spend some more rail fares on having them all changed to a different brand again. Great.

It's interesting that falling passenger numbers are behind their problems, despite the claim that the new ticket barriers would lead to a "substantial uplift in revenue," where they have already been installed. Unfortunately it appears that the complete disregard for customer service has finally come home to roost.

However, National Express still have another six months to run the franchise, so it isn't clear what this means for the ticket barriers at York. They can hardly carry on hiding behind the argument that it is a "franchise commitment," after defaulting on a couple of slightly more major franchise commitments. Watch this space for further information.

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Press statement from York Environment Forum

York Environment Forum has issued a press statement on the subject of the station ticket barriers:


York Environment Forum has objected to the proposed installation of ticket gates at York Station.The Forum believes that the City Council should consider the scheme in much wider terms than how the gates will look in a Grade 2* Listed Building, important though that is. The gates will
* impede passengers
* present an unwelcoming image to visitors to the City
* frustrate people seeing off and meeting relatives and friends
* remove the opportunity to buy tickets on the train
* reduce revenue at trading facilities on the station
* block a popular pedestrian route and force people onto an unpleasant and longer route
* prevent the planned link between the present City and the critical York Central site, and
* take the station out of the public realm instead of integrating it more closely with the life of the city.

Such ticket fraud as exists can be tackled in more appropriate ways than by gates, whereas all these consequences will reduce the convenience and pleasure of travelling by train at just the time when we need to encourage more people to choose rail.

Whatever its legal status, the station belongs to the people of York. In keeping with the Council's commitments they should be involved in its future. It should not be treated as a private fiefdom by a short-term tenant.

The City is awash with partnerships and strategies. We hope that they will not be proved impotent in the face of a threat to a valued part of the City's economy and life.

The Environment Forum therefore calls on the City Council to launch a wide-ranging debate about the future of the station with its partners and with citizens before proceeding to any decision about the planning application.

The text of the objection lodged with the City Council is attached.

Jonathan Tyler (Chair)

York Environment Forum brings together individuals and representatives of voluntary organisations who are committed to building a sustainable way of life. We focus particularly on the City of York and are members of the partnership that wrote and is responsible for implementing the Sustainable Community Strategy.

You can link to the full objection here

Monday, 29 June 2009

Tales from St Pancras and Waterloo

The new barriers were installed on the domestic platforms at St Pancras station earlier in the month, though according to reports they may presently only be in use at peak times. They are by Cubic, who are also responsible for London Underground gates, rather than Scheidt and Bachmann so may be more robust from a technological point of view, but they are not (yet) enabled to take smartcards.

Anyway, a friendly notice has now appeared on the station: "There was a queue at the ticket office. / I had to run for the train / I thought I could pay on the train / I was late for work.

"No ticket - No excuse. Deliberate fare evasion will not be tolerated. If you have the opportunity to buy your ticket before boarding you need to."

So we now find that people who have previously chosen to pay on the train are conflated with deliberate fare-dodgers. The rail industry now seems obsessed with the idea that every passenger is a potential criminal.

Meanwhile, a story appeared in the Independent by Deborah Orr about the ticket gates at Waterloo:

"The man at the Guildford railway platform seemed like a good sort as well, even if he was not a Samaritan, and advised us to go to platform five and the fast train to London, instead of the slow one we were about to board. Alas, at Waterloo, our tickets wouldn't open the barrier, which mystified and baffled us until an attendant pointed out that our tickets were to Clapham Junction only, and that we'd therefore have to have a word with "the management".

The management insisted that we'd have to get on another train and return to Clapham Junction, which we'd only just passed through without stopping, or pay a fine which they would have to calculate, but would definitely be at least £20. Wouldn't it be more sensible, I asked, just to let us out, than to force us to take up two scarce seats on a rush-hour train for no reason, or to punish us financially because we didn't see the point in this pointless exercise? Apparently not. Forty-five minutes, and five layers of "management" up, a besuited and busy chap called Sam Bourne agreed that since I'd convinced him there was no deliberate attempt at fraud, just £2.40 for the Clapham-Waterloo extension fare would secure release from the station. It took a while, but there was some wisdom to be found among the staff of South-West Trains.

What can I say, more generally, about this odd little day trip, except that it is, to me, just another tiny illustration of how the Pharisee mentality has won, and that rules trump all, including common sense, sympathy, logic, kindness, fellow-feeling and personal initiative. Staying within the rules, however counterintuitive they may be, is the curse of our age and time and place. Just look what it has done to Parliament. It's woeful that a preacher from 2,000 years ago could see the perils of living by intractable rules more clearly than anyone from our leaders to our "customer service attendants" can today."

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Committee date for York barrier plans

It now looks likely that the York barrier plans will go to planning committee on 16th July. Whilst the official deadline for comments is 26th June, it's likely that they can be accepted in practice for some time after that.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

New poll on Sheffield barriers

Sheffield City Council are conducting a poll about East Midlands Trains' proposal to install ticket barriers at Sheffield railway station on their website. You can participate by following this link:


East Midlands Trains have continued their programme of bringing in agency staff to close the footbridge on a rolling basis, though nothing has been reported this week - probably because the staff are otherwise occupied at the newly installed St Pancras barriers.

Residents Against Station Closure, who have been co-ordinating local opposition to the plans, arranged a protest outside the station in late May that was attended by over a hundred people. The rally was addressed by campaigners and representatives of all the main party groups on Sheffield City Council.

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Deadline for objections to York barriers extended to 26th June

Apparently there were some hiccups with the City of York Council website that meant comments couldn't be submitted online to the revised barriers application. However, these have now been sorted out and the deadline for comments has been extended to 26th June. You can comment on the plans here:


Another meeting is also expected to take place involving English Heritage that may result in yet further revisions to the scheme. The expectation at present is that they will be considered by the West and Central Area Planning Committee in July.

Please note that the advice is that anyone who put in a comment before should resubmit it to the council, to make sure that it will still be taken into account on the revised application.

For information the current position on the Newcastle barriers is that the council granted "minded to approve" consent, whcih now has to go to the Government Office for the North East for final approval. Updates to follow.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Do barriers meet safety standards?

There are surely serious questions about whether new ticket barriers meet safety standards in view of the warning posters being put up at stations by Fist Capital Connect (see earlier blogs). The Railway Group Standards on automatic ticket gates (guidelines that rail companies are supposed to follow, issued in 2003 say the following:

"The station operator shall ensure that the:
  • design of the ATGs enables passengers to pass through them without injury (including injury caused by electric shock)
  • ATGs are designed to open in the event of equipment failure
  • manually operated auxiliary gates are designed to release in the event of equipment failure
  • ATG equipment is configured such that the contact forces exerted by thegates do not cause injury to passengers."
The standards go on to state:

"The sensors provided within the ATG mechanism should ensure that, when a gate has been opened to enable a person to pass through, it does not close until that person has passed safely through the ATG. There should be no opportunity for the person to become trapped or for the gate to close on the person and so cause possible injury. The sensors should also detect that the area swept by an opening gate is clear before the gate can open. This should not apply if the emergency open facility is activated.

The design of the ATGs should also enable people to pass through without injury, for example by trapped fingers or limbs, or injury to the heads of smallchildren."

Not sure how all of that fits in with FCC's warning poster saying that children could face "serious injury". As well as children, there have also been instances of dogs, bicycles and luggage becoming trapped.

Sheffield station - demonstration to keep the footbridge open

Just to let people know that a demonstration will be taking place in Sheffield tomorrow against East Midlands Trains' massively unpopular plans to close off the station there with barriers.


Don’t let East Midlands Trains get away with highway robbery. You, the people of Sheffield, have contributed £7 million towards the creation of this safe, clean and much valued pathway to the city centre. Are you prepared to let East Midlands Trains take it from you?

Twice, in the week of 11th May, as part of a ticket checking exercise, East Midlands Trains stopped people using the bridge, including children and people with buggies, forcing them to use the unsafe alternative, known as "Mugger’s Alley".

Join us on Wednesday, 20th May at 5p.m. in front of the station and walk with us across the bridge, to show that it belongs to Sheffield and we intend to keep it!
They can check tickets without closing the bridge.

No one, except East Midlands Trains, wants the bridge to close. All the Sheffield M.P.s are against it, as are the Councillors. Come along and show your opposition.

For details check out the website:

Monday, 18 May 2009

Live from Norwich: the latest barriers fiasco

Apparently the new barriers at Norwich station have been causing so many problems (see earlier blogs) they've now been taken out of use altogether. The picture below shows that the wide gate has simply been left permanently open.

By all accounts the conductors on the trains are also making less effort as a consequence, so the net result is a massive reduction in the effectiveness of ticket checking. But don't worry, the barriers will only have cost a million or so to put in!

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Government health warning: ticket gates can seriously damage your children's health

According to a report in Rail Management Online by Sim Harris, First Capital Connect have now put up posters at several stations where ticket gates have recently been installed, warning of potential danger to young children passing through ticket barriers accompanied by parents. The posters state that a child caught in a closing barrier could face "serious injury" and advises those with children or luggage to use the wide gates - as long, of course as long as one of the limited number of wide gates will actually work.

No similar warnings have yet been posted at any stations run by other franchises.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

CABYS statement on revised York plans

Having had a chance to look at the revised plans for barriers at York, it appears that National Express have made some significant changes. The height of the glazed screens has been reduced and provision made for access from the short stay car park; however, there will still be four separate gate lines, at least two of which will only be staffed at peak times.

National Express have also issued a "justification" statement more or less identical to that at Newcastle.

CABYS has issued a press statement on the revised plans:

We are pleased to see that, in their revised plans, NXEC have addressed the problem of access from the short-stay car park. However the new plans do nothing to satisfy those of us who are upset at the way in which an important listed building is to be marred by the installation of ugly and unnecessary barriers. And yet this is not just a question of aesthetics, for there are other equally important issues at stake.

Basically ticket barriers are just not suitable for this kind of station. York has no less than four separate entrances, with the result that at both the long-stay car park and the Leeman Rd car park there will be no assistants on hand, just ticket machines and an intercom for passengers needing help. This means that people with disabilities (whether sensory, mental or physical) will have considerable difficulty dealing with these facilities, as too will mothers with small children and the elderly. Also if potential passengers find that it is not possible to buy the correct ticket or that the barriers will not allow them through then they will have to walk all the way round to the front of the station.

Another deeply worrying feature of the proposed scheme is whether NXEC will have the staff necessary to man all the barriers at all those times when passengers are likely to need assistance (especially since they seem to be shedding staff at present). They claim that the barriers will be fully manned “at peak times”. But the likelihood is that those passengers most in need of assistance – such as those with excessive luggage, the elderly, the disabled, and families – are precisely the people who do not travel at “peak times”. So how are they to get help when they need it?

And then there’s Grand Central. Currently travellers enjoy the fact that they are able to buy their tickets on the train. But if this plan goes through they will have to join the long queues in the ticket office, because National Express will be able to refuse access to the platforms for anyone without a ticket. This should be ruled out on the grounds that it is anti-competitive, especially as National Express run the Travel Centre and would therefore gain commission from these tickets.

The case for installing automated gates is not proven. Most journeys in and out of York allow enough time for on-train staff to check and issue tickets between stations. ‘Fare dodging’ is usually associated with short distance commuting, but most journeys that start or end at York are not of this type. Basically NXEC have not provided any evidence to demonstrate that the problems of fare evasion are of a type and scale that would be best addressed by ticket barriers, particularly given their other obvious disadvantages and cost. It would seem that they were included in the franchise bid without any proper evaluation.

As far as we are concerned York station should not be regarded as “belonging” to National Express, for whom it is just a `capital asset’, and who in all probability won’t be running the station for very much longer anyway. It really belongs to the people of York, who have as much affection for this glorious Victorian building as they have for the other great architectural glories of the city. NXEC should not be allowed to despoil it.

Verna Campbell
Chair, CABYS (Campaign Against Barriers at York Station)

Monday, 11 May 2009

Pedestrian flow analysis at Norwich

National Express have declared in their justification statement for the barrier application at Newcastle that the Scheidt & Bachmann gates they propose to install are capable of letting through "up to" 33 people a minute. Apparently, they've even conducted a "pedestrian flow analysis" to show how well the gates will be able to cope with the number of people using them.

However, passengers in Norwich, where barriers were put in recently, no longer have to wait - they can experience the benefits of the "safety and security" of the barriers at first hand. So secure, in fact, that passengers arriving on the 18.22 from London Liverpool Street had to wait several minutes to get out of the station after arriving.

Here is a description from one passenger, forwarded by Richard Malins:

On Friday 9th May a full trainload of passengers alighted the 16.30 from Liverpool Street at around 18.22 at Norwich station platform 2. (It was particularly full as the 1600 from Liverpool street had been cancelled due to train failure.) Because of the ticket gates it took at least 3 minutes for most people to pass through the ticket gates. There are 5 gates opposite platform 1. However the wide gate was broken and barricaded off. (And was still that way on Monday 11 May at 9am.) Because of the layout, it is difficult for passengers exiting platform 1 to use the second set of gates. So around 400 passengers were trying to get through 4 gates. The photos attached show what it was like, with timings. It took me from 18.23 to 18.27 to exit, and then only because I managed to get to the other set of gates which had been set on open. Needless to say there was no ticket check! I suspect the Meteor Agency staff gave up and just opened all the gates. And there had been no ticket checks on the train.

One passenger standing next to me said, quite unprompted, I used to look forward to arriving at Norwich and know I was home. Not any more. (He had a large airline style ticket.)

One consolation for Norwich fans. The Ipswich gates come into operation on 12 May!

So obviously plenty of benefits to look forward to if NXEC are allowed to install the gates at York and Newcastle. So safe and secure, even the passengers can't get through them!

Friday, 8 May 2009

Revised barrier scheme at York

CABYS has just received news that revised plans have been lodged with City of York Council, though the timescale for a decision is still unclear. You can look at the plans on the CYC planning portal:


Further information to follow shortly.

Decision time on Newcastle barriers

A planning committee will decide on an application for ticket barriers at Newcastle on Friday, 15th May. Local campaigners are gearing up to persuade the committee to turn down the Listed Building Consent. Newcastle railway station is an outstanding Grade II* listed building.

Whilst English Heritage have withdrawn their objections after significant amendments from National Express, Planning Policy Guidance note 15 (PPG15), which is part of the national advice to planning authorities, clearly states that any proposals for change to historic buildings must be justified. Campaigners will therefore be urging the committee to look at the statement of support presented by National Express.

Many of the claims made by National Express in their supporting statement are highly dubious. For example, they claim to have conducted "pedestrian flow analysis" to determine the number of automatic ticket gates required at each station, claiming throughput rates of up to 33 people per minute (higher than is typical on the London Underground where there is a well-established barrier system). The key phrase here is "up to" - as reported in earlier posts, when the barriers have not been switched to "accept all-tickets" mode, in which case they are effectively useless in preventing ticket fraud, up to 30% of valid tickets can end up being rejected. On top of that there are the wheelchair users, people with pushchairs, people with bicycles, heavy luggage, pets and so on, all of which mean that the 33 ppm is in effect a complete fantasy.

On the question of whether there is any business case (in revenue protection terms) the document helpfully states: "Rest assured that the case for gating is very convincing from a commercial perspective, but we cannot divulge particular details for reasons of commercial sensitivity and confidentiality."

Perhaps this reticence has something to do with the fact that the commitment to gating was made as part of NXEC's original franchise bid; however they would not have had sufficient information as part of the bidding process to conduct detailed business case assessments on the effects of gating at each station. So the so called "business case" is at best a fig leaf designed to justify their original commitment to the Department for Transport.

On the subject of railway enthusiasts, the statement says "Likewise, passes can be issued to people wishing to view the building or the locomotives passing through it." Well, clearly passes can be issued, but this does not mean that they will be. In March, Gerry Doherty, the General Secretary of the rail union TSSA, reported that his members had been instructed at a meeting with National Express that trainspotters would be banned "without exception" from ECML stations.

You can view the NXEC statement here:


And Richard Malins' detailed rebuttal of NXEC's claims here:


CABYS would like to give every support to the Newcastle campaigners in their aim to keep the station free of barriers.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

If you can't win the argument....

Apparently there was complete chaos at Sheffield station this morning. East Midlands Trains, who are supposedly still in "negotiation" with the City Council over barriers, decided to turn Sheffield into a closed station and blocked the access route across the footbridge used by many people to get from the Park Hill area to the city centre. The gating scheme has been condemned by councillors and MPs of all parties in the city.

A letter from EMT dated today went to Cllr Ian Auckland, the Council cabinet member with responsibility for transport issues. It says, "As you know, we started to consult our stakeholders about our proposals to install automatic ticket barriers at Sheffield station in early 2008. [....] Unfortunately, and for whatever reason, some stakeholders have remained opposed to this proposal and after more than a year of consultation we are now at an impasse.


"For that reason, and wth regret, from this morning we have started to carry out a rolling programme of revenue protection checks at each end of the station, using our staff [...and...] we will only be able to allow rail ticket holders onto the footbridge."

So there we have it - apparently the "consultation" is not about whether barriers are a good idea or whether there is any sensible and rational justification for them, it's just about minor details. Geraldine Roberts, chair of Residents Against Station Closure, has now written to Jake Kelly, the author of the EMT letter:

Dear Jake

I wonder if you are aware of and or condone the action taken at Sheffield Station this morning? Phone and e-mail messages have been flooding in, the following are samples:
In the week when Lord Adonis has given Sheffield Station top marks for facilities and services, it is appalling that EMT believes it has a mandateto create chaos there in the name of "revenue protection"! A colleague has just reported total chaos at the station this morning:the station was operating as a "closed" station;there were only 4 automatic ticket machines in operation;each had a queue of at least 20 plus huge queues for the staffed booking office which was not fully staffed;

Those without train tickets today had to cross the old bridge to get to the city.I tried to walk past but was prevented from doing so (the officials putting themselves in the way )This does not even meet the suggestions that those crossing without a ticket would have a pass.

People with valid tram tickets were sent away.

You mentioned at the working group meeting in November that if EMT failed to get agreement to the barriers you could resort to "flooding the station with "Heavies" in yellow jackets, to hassle everyone without a ticket". At the time I must admit I thought that this you didn't really mean it and that in fact you would have too much sense to believe that it is really in EMT's best interests to behave in such a manner to the people of Sheffield who are committed to maintaining this vital pedestrian link.

I thought the fact that it it would be an "own goal" from a PR point of view would prevent this type of action being taken, apparently not?

EMT has not submitted documentation to support Listed Building Consent for barriers and the the working group has not met since November 08, so as far as the City is concerned, we are still in discussions with your company. I suggest that you halt this destructive action immediately and let's get back around the table.

Yours sincerely
Geraldine Roberts
Chair- Residents Against Station Closure

With the kind of contempt for customer service exhibited by EMT, how on earth are we supposed to persuade people to use public transport instead of getting into their cars?

Addendum: Sheffield City Council will consider the following motion:

Moved by Cllr Scriven seconded by Cllr Wilson

That this Council: -

(a) is deeply concerned to learn that East Midlands Trains have begun blocking off access through Sheffield Station to non-ticket holders by deploying staff at each end of the Station;

(b) is outraged with the actions of East Midlands Trains who have effectively cut our city in half and ignored the wishes of local people;

(c) notes with disappointment that East Midlands Trains have also outlined that they ‘will continue to work towards installing the barriers’;

(d) welcomes the fact that the Leader of Council has written an urgent e-mail to the Secretary of State for Transport asking him to intervene on this issue;

(e) notes that only the Government can now stop East Midlands Trains blocking off access through Sheffield Station and therefore calls on the Secretary of State for Transport to urgently intervene and withdraw the clause in the franchise which asks for gating to be installed.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Station trading losses from gating

Apparently gating schemes around the country have had a considerable impact on station trading revenue. Richard Malins has reported that information from elsewhere, such as Waterloo, suggests that there is a reduction of at least 10% in overall income, though this can sometimes be greater - one outlet at Cambridge reported a 60% drop in revenue. This is on top of the fact that some trading points have had to be removed entirely to make room for the barriers.

The causes are:
  • The division of the station into paid and unpaid areas, reducing pedestrian flow in both - naturally fewer people will enter the "gated" areas, but also those waiting for a connection are less likely to cross the barrier lines to use shops in the main concourse of the station;
  • The "anxiety" caused by the barriers, meaning that people are focused on getting through them and therefore have less inclination to spend; and
  • The additional time taken to get through the barriers, meaning that people have less time for other activities at the station.

This is another nail in the coffin for National Express's so-called "business case" for the barriers - which as yet they have declined to share with the public or anyone else. The negative effects on station trading will, of course, reduce yet further the scarce funding available for necessary improvements to the rail system.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Duncan Bannatyne experiences the "benefits" of ticket barriers

Duncan Bannatyne certainly didn't mince his words about National Express's service on the East Coast Main Line in a Telegraph article on the 15th April:

"Most weeks I travel between Darlington and Kings Cross by train. The service used to be operated by GNER and I often thought that it was the best train service in the UK. A first-class train ticket is not cheap at £185.50 but at least I could sit down and work on my computer or read in peace.

Unfortunately, GNER went out of business and the service was taken over by another operator, National Express. In my experience this was a disaster. Their first move was to put up barriers at stations to check tickets, along with a sign saying 'No entry beyond this point without a ticket.' That meant my children could no longer wave me off at the station and, even then, my ticket was often checked as I left Darlington, during the journey and on arrival at King's Cross.

You might think the operator should be applauded for its diligence and for creating jobs. Until, of course, you get on board and are told: 'Sorry, no hot food service today due to staff shortages.' Why couldn't one or two of the half dozen ticket collectors be redeployed on the train to serve food? In fact, why couldn't the ticket collectors already on the train help out?"

After reporting on a particular nightmare journey from Darlington to King's Cross, he added:

"If you're reading this and laughing then please stop, it's not funny. However, if you are reading this and looking for a job, call National Express: they might need even more ticket checkers."

If many high-paying travellers such as Mr Bannatyne are put off by National Express's obsession with checking everyone's ticket umpteen times, the inconvenience and delay of ticket barriers, and the cavalier disregard for customer service, this will rapidly eradicate any gains from catching the alleged army of "ticket dodgers". One wonders, for example, how the people paying £300 a day or more to park in the executive car park at York and then travel to London will feel if they find they have to walk all the way round the outside of the station because the barriers on Platform 1 are unstaffed (as they will be for much of the day) and their ticket won't work. It might not be very long before a few brickbats are seen travelling in National Express's direction.

And of course, this once again demonstrates the huge and unquestioned popularity of barriers amongst the travelling public.

Barriers "improve access?"

The following is an extract from a Guardian article that appeared last month, by Dan Milmo:

"The government is considering a £250m stimulus package for the railways aimed at boosting revenues and passenger numbers. It is understood that Network Rail, the owner of Britain's rail infrastructure, has been asked to select projects that can be brought forward at a cost to the taxpayer of between £200m and £250m.

The measures are expected to increase train operator revenues by clamping down on fare dodgers, and increase passenger numbers by making rail travel more attractive for less frequent train users. Network Rail is considering investing the money in improving station access, which train operators believe will boost off-peak travel by attracting the elderly and mothers with young children.

Train operators are keen to sell more off-peak tickets because they are contracted to run a high number of services during quiet times of day, when there is less demand from commuters.

Network Rail is also considering bringing forward investment in ticket barriers. Fare dodging is thought to cost the industry 5% of its annual revenues, or about £270m, and the transport secretary, Geoff Hoon, has asked train operators to propose gating schemes. Lord Adonis, the rail minister, told the Guardian last month that such a scheme would be popular. "There is wide support from passengers for gating because they don't like huge amounts of people not paying for fares that they then have to subsidise." Station car parks would also benefit from the programme."

Richard Malins provided the following response to the points in the article.

The thing is this needs to be exposed before a wider audience, and someone must persuade Adonis, who they say has the brain and interest to see through the nonsense the DfT are peddling, to call a halt to it because:
a) the proposition is basically contradictory - install barriers and make rail travel easier to access and attract the elderly and mothers with children.
b) the estimated 5% of revenue is an unsubstantiated number and the true figures will be more complicated and vary according to circumstances - measurement is difficult and usually not done properly, if at all.
c) barriers only protect a minimum fare, their effectiveness declines with length of journey and are believed to reduce short distance fare evasion by around half.
d) outside the London commuter area the magnetic ticket technology does not properly support gating systems and it is thus highly unreliable where system geography and fares structures are complex.

It's also worth adding that no proper survey has been conducted (as far as CABYS is aware) to determine whether passengers actually support barriers or not. (The oft repeated claims that this is the case seem to come from the approach of Passenger Focus, the official rail watchdog. Passenger Focus does frequently support barriers but has expressed some doubts about the Sheffield and York schemes in particular.)

The story also gets covered in the Railway Eye blog:

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Former rail manager criticises ECML barriers plan

John Nelson, former General Manager of BR's Eastern Region, has criticised plans for ticket barriers on stations catering mainly for long-distance services. In an article in April's "Transit" magazine, he explained the reason that barriers were originally removed: the fixed costs of running them were eliminated, improving the travelling environment and increasing income. He added, "It boosted revenues whilst vastly improving the ambience of stations." He was in charge of the East Coast Main Line when the changes were made.

He also challenged the accuracy of claims made by National Express that ticket gates are "becoming common worldwide". In fact they are not generally used at main line stations elsewhere in Europe. He commented, "In Germany, ease of access to the trains and platforms is seen as a huge customer benefit."

He accepted that there were advantages to ticket gates at stations handling predominantly suburban or commuter traffic, but said that benefits on the ECML were "doubtful." The barriers are offputting to some passengers, can be difficult to negotiate for those unfamiliar with them and can extend journey times making rail less competitive.

These concerns echo those of CABYS members, who are worried that the barriers could actually reduce revenues and harm the rail industry by deterring some passengers, as well as closing off the station as a public space.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

The real reason for the barriers emerges

National Express East Coast have consistently claimed that the justification for the barriers is to ensure revenue protection and cut down on fraudulent travel. However, on longer distance services such as those on the East Coast Main Line, there is often a considerable amount of time to check tickets between stations. An example is at King's Cross, where platforms 9-11, dealing mainly with suburban traffic, are already gated - the other platforms cater mainly for long distance services most of which don't stop before Peterborough, nearly an hour's running time away. Is it really impossible to on-train staff to do a thorough check in this time?

A recent article by Christian Wolmar in "Rail" magazine has highlighted National Express's submission to Newcastle City Council in support of the installation of barriers there: "Once commissioned, the ticket barriers become the single point of entry to the rail side of stations. Following the 7/7 attack, there is a requirement to have CCTV coverage of entry and exit points to stations in order to achieve identification and/or recognition standards."

So in other words there is now an intention to identify every individual entering or leaving a railway station - but at least we can sleep easy in or beds that the terrorist threat is being dealt with, and that a bomber will never be able to get on a train at York station. Except of course, for the fact that the 7/7 bombers did get on a train at a gated station (Luton), and alternatively, failing that, they could just use one of the hundreds of unstaffed stations on the network.

Manchester and Leeds ticket barriers latest

Barriers have been introduced over the past year in Leeds and at Manchester Oxford Road stations - these are of a similar type to those proposed at York and other stations on the East Coast Main Line (please note Leeds previously had old-style "manual" barriers). They have been subject to constant problems - valid tickets rejected for no reason, complete malfunction, and inability to discriminate between ticket types. The Leeds barriers were operating for some months on "accept all tickets" mode - i.e. any magnetic stripe ticket would work. In their submission to City of York Council, National Express have claimed that the barriers can reliably allow through up to 30 people a minute - a number higher even than on the London Underground.

Some information below from Richard Malins on the current situation with the Manchester and Leeds Ticket barriers:

Manchester Oxford Road is still in "accept-all-tickets" mode, although apparently new software had been loaded but the system has reverted to previous practice. There was a Scheidt & Bachmann technician present, attending to a physical fault with the ticket reading mechanism, who was surprised by this as he thought the new software was running. I had to demonstrate to him that my collection of previously used, off route and out of date tickets still worked. For the often single member of staff on duty the work remains busy and stressful as the amount of manual intervention is high.

Leeds does now have the software upgrade running, but it does not capture or cancel used tickets. There is a c 10 minute "pass back protection" during which reuse of the same ticket is prevented, but it can be used again beyond that time. In general terms, out of date and off route tickets are now rejected. But there are a lot of other malfunctions with tickets apparently valid being rejected, especially a significant number issued on Avantix mobile machines. Add to that the problems of the many tickets that are not in any case machine readable, or the customer inserts the wrong half of a return, the seat reservation or receipt, as well as all the other people problems, the inexperienced and encumbered, and the rate of manual intervention is also very high.

I would estimate in both cases (using a hand counter), and the staff do not disagree, that about 30% of people passing the gates require some form of manual intervention. This is partly the obvious people problems, but a lot is technical. This is a very high proportion and I am certain Newcastle, York or Sheffield will be similar (the Underground in London is probably 1% or less). As a result the staff are continually having to assist people simply with getting through the barriers, and there is little opportunity for proper passenger help or revenue protection. They are largely there to overcome the problems the barriers create, and other issues are ignored or moved on. It is true there will be some people diverted to purchase tickets or excess fares, but it is a very clumsy way of achieving that extra bit of revenue, and there will be even bigger problems at the moments busier then when I was there. It also means that the notion of staff being in a position to exercise some sort of assistance and discretion is unrealistic. They are too fully occupied and stressed for that, and as Agency staff are not really being paid for it either. They do their best in difficult circumstances.

One observation was the number of people who approach the barriers with something in both hands, or pulling a wheeled suitcase, which then makes it difficult for them to negotiate their way through, even if they have a ticket that will work correctly. Quite often that can be a hot drink in one hand. The overall impression remains one of a disorganised shambles and a system that is overtly hostile to the customer. It is a quite wrong application of technology. I suspect the situation at Norwich remains similar.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

CABYS blog

This blog will post news and information about the Campaign against Barriers at York Station and other ticket barriers (or proposed ticket barriers) elsewhere. The campaign was started by citizens concerned about National Express East Coast's published intention of installing ticket barriers at York, late in 2008. This has also raised concerns the rail industry's current drive to install ticket barriers at as many stations as possible across the network, with little or no evidence about cost effectiveness or the potential disadvantages.

Whilst there is no argument that on some suburban networks, such as the London Underground, barriers are a necessary measure to prevent fare evasion, the evidence they are effective at stations dealing primarily with main line traffic, such as York, is much more limited. In addition, they can cause significant inconvenience to passengers and close off railway stations as public spaces; in some cases, they may close off important through routes.

There is also plenty of evidence that many ticket barriers that are being installed, especially outside London, are not up to the job. Some have been operating on "accept all tickets" mode, whilst others can throw back more than a quarter of the (valid) tickets put into them, creating chaos at busy times.

More news and information will appear periodically.

You can see CABYS' static web page at http://one.xthost.info/cabys