The UK Government has told train operators to withdraw proposals to close almost all ticket offices in England after two watchdog groups objected to the plans.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper said that the government had made it clear to the operators that the proposal would have to meet a high threshold for benefiting passengers, which he said has not been met.

Harper said: “We have engaged with accessibility groups throughout this process and listened carefully to passengers as well as my colleagues in Parliament.

“The proposals that have resulted from this process do not meet the high thresholds set by ministers and so the government has asked train operators to withdraw their proposals.”

The controversial plans had originally been proposed as a response to the supposed declining use of ticket offices in favour of ticketing apps or self-service machines at stations. Many accessibility groups had said the closure of nearly all offices would make it harder for some people to travel on the rail network. 

While news of the proposal rejection was welcomed by the campaign and union groups that had been imploring the government to cancel the plans, RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch said that more could still be done. 

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Alongside claiming the withdrawal as a “resounding victory”, he said: “We are now calling for an urgent summit with the government, train operating companies, disabled and community organisations and passenger groups to agree a different route for the rail network that guarantees the future of our ticket offices and stations staff jobs to delivers a safe, secure and accessible service that puts passengers before profit.” 

Passenger watchdog group Transport Focus, one of the groups overseeing the consultation, said that its rejection of the proposals was down to key issues around maintaining accessibility for all to the rail network, as seen in the historic 750,000 responses to the consultation. 

Transport Focus chief executive Anthony Smith said: “Some train companies were unable to convince us about their ability to sell a full range of tickets, handle cash payments and avoid excessive queues at ticket machines. Passengers must be confident they can get help when needed and buy the right ticket in time for the right train.” 

The parliamentary Transport Committee had also voiced concerns on the plan, writing to Rail Minister Huw Merriman to say that they went “too far, too fast” earlier this month.

While the proposals had originally been backed by the government, the Department for Transport now highlighted previously announced plans to improve the rail network, such as a £20m boost to extend Pay as You Go ticketing options and the, heavily criticised, Network North plan revealed to replace investment into the HS2 line between Birmingham and Manchester. 

The Rail Delivery Group (RDG), the representative body for rail operators that originally introduced the proposals, also said that it would continue to look at other ways of improving passenger experience and delivery value for taxpayers. 

However, the RDG still appeared to back its original plans, saying: “These proposals were about adapting the railway to the changing needs of customers in the smartphone era, balanced against the significant financial challenge faced by the industry as it recovers from the pandemic. 

“At a time when the use of ticket offices is irreversibly declining, we also want to give our people more enriching and rewarding careers geared towards giving passengers more visible face-to-face support.”