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