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Highland councillors urge new Transport Minister to stop rail ticket office hours being slashed

By Gavin Musgrove

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Highland Council convener and local member Bill Lobban at Aviemore railway station's ticket office.
Highland Council convener and local member Bill Lobban at Aviemore railway station's ticket office.

Local Highland councillors are calling for no changes to be made to railway ticket office hours in the strath until the Scottish Government takes over the reins of the network.

Members of the area committee agreed a motion at their latest meeting condemning the proposed cuts at Kingussie and Aviemore railway stations.

Committee chairman Councillor Bill Lobban said: “At a time when climate change is so high on the agenda it seems quite unbelievable that we should be putting barriers in place that will ultimately lead to a reduction in the level of service for passengers.

“The removal of ticketing office hours at our two main line stations will make it more difficult for passengers to use the train as an alternative to the car.

“There is evidence available from elsewhere that electronic ticketing machines breakdown causing confusion and distress to passengers who then have to explain to conductors that they were unable to buy a ticket and then have to prove that.

“Often the cheaper rate tickets that are available can often only be bought face to face or on the internet and if you do not have access to the latter then how do you buy these tickets?

“I think that this is just a piece of nonsense which has been thought up to save a minuscule amount of money.”

Councillor Lobban said it was a ‘chicken and the egg’ scenario, explaining: “You need more people to get on the trains before you get more trains.

“Well, bring the fares down to an acceptable level and you will get more passengers. It is quite simple.

“Rail travel is far too expensive and the trains that are there quite often do not have enough carriages.”

Councillor Pippa Hadley said there had been a return this past year to tourism in the strath that had not been seen for the past 30 to 40 years.

She commented: “We should be encouraging the use of our trains and manned use of ticketing office.

“We have a reputation as being a friendly place to visit and we will be reducing that interface to automatic systems which quite often do not work.”

She added that the cost to travel by train to Aviemore from Kingussie could be the equivalent of an hourly wage and some people were only getting four-hour shifts.

Councillor Muriel Cockburn said: “I think that the proposal should be stopped in its entirety because the new owner – the Scottish Government – is taking over in April and I think a full assessment for the services must be taken with staff and locals at the heart of this... This is just a silly thing that the current operator is doing.”

Members agreed a motion condemning the move to cut railway ticket office hours.

It stated: “This area committee condemns the cuts to railway station ticket offices in Aviemore and Kingussie and additionally wishes to highlight the ridiculously high fares for local train passengers and that any changes are halted prior to the introduction of the new operator.”

Councillor Lobban and his colleagues agreed to write to Jenny Gilruth, the new Scottish Government Minister of Transport, highlighting their concerns.

ScotRail confirmed they were waiting to receive the full report from their recent public consultation on their ticket office network.

“The consultation was conducted by Transport Focus,” said a ScotRail spokesperson. “We’re awaiting the publication of their results, I’m afraid there’s nothing to comment on until then.”

The Strathy asked Transport Focus for an update but spokesperson for the consultants said: “We’re not able to go into details at this stage but can confirm the response to the consultation was good.

"The consultation period ended on February 2. The results should be with ScotRail shortly.”

The proposals will see Aviemore’s weekday hours of 7.30am to 9.25pm cut to 7.30am to 5pm.

Saturday’s opening from 7.35am to 2.39pm would be cut to 8am to 2.30pm. Sunday’s hours would remain 9.40am to 5.20pm.

Kingussie’s hours of 8.26am to 2.30pm would be reduced to just 10am to 11.45am Monday to Thursday and 8.45am to 2pm on Friday. Saturday would be cut from 8.26am to 3.30pm to 9am to 11.45am. There is no Sunday opening.

Aviemore and Kingussie railway ticket offices facing big cuts in opening hours

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