Death of the buffet car looms on the railways

Rail Car
Rail Car

Rail chiefs are preparing to scrap buffet cars and catering trolleys across Britain's train network in a death knell for the successor of the “British Rail sandwich”.

A review of on-board catering across the entire network is to be launched to see if it is “affordable and valued by passengers” under multi billion-pound cost-cutting measures put to trade union leaders alongside pay rises.

The need to provide food and drinks in first and standard class carriages will be considered by the review.

Although on some train lines catering is likely to remain once the review is concluded, it said that on many routes, catering is a loss-making activity.

Prospective cuts to food services are one part of a 12-page framework put to the Rail, Maritime and Transport workers union (RMT) by train operators to break the deadlock in a long-running industrial dispute.

Strikes - Jordan Pettitt/PA
Strikes - Jordan Pettitt/PA

The framework also confirms plans to axe swathes of railway station ticket offices, with staff will be brought out from behind glass screens to help customers on the platforms and trained so that they can also dispatch services.

The document says: “These proposals are intended to modernise the passenger retail arrangements at stations, and this is anticipated to incorporate the closure and re-purposing of the traditional ticket office facilities.”

Ticket offices will be converted into retail outlets such as coffee shops, bakeries or newsagents, or into flats to house rail workers.

Some stations will put a “passenger hub facility” in the place of ticket offices to allow customers to seek help.

The Telegraph reported last September that Whitehall officials had begun writing ticket office closures into new contracts with train operators.

Kevin Foster, rail minister under Liz Truss, said in October that the Government wanted to move staff from behind ticket office screens.

The way people have purchased tickets has evolved significantly since the railways were privatised. A quarter of a century ago, 82pc of tickets were bought from an office. This proportion has now fallen to only 12pc.

It remains to be seen whether the RMT will back train operators’ proposals in return for a 9pc pay rise.

The union has long-campaigned against the closure of ticket offices, saying that they continue to play a vital role in helping passengers.

Ministers have admitted that the ticket office cull will generate job losses, but insisted that the primary driver for the changes is better service.

A poll by the RMT in December found that 97pc of members believe that ticket office closures would lead to fewer staff working at stations.

Ticket office closures also risk a backlash from Conservative MPs in rural constituencies.

On-board catering has been a loss-making operation for train operators for some time as many passengers prefer to buy sandwiches or drinks from station outlets rather than opt for the “British Rail sandwich”, which became synonymous with bad service during the days of fully-nationalised services.