One in four train ticket offices could be set for closure as a result of cuts, according to the Transport Salaried Staffs Association. The union claims to have found evidence that 1,000 jobs will be cut and 675 ticket offices closed.
But why don't we know about this, and is it such a bad idea?
The union said the list was lurking in a report prepared by Sir Roy McNulty on how to save money on the railways. It added that the fact that the report ran to hundreds of pages means it has taken this long for someone to dig it out of the small print - presumably a summer holiday period well spent for someone.
The report said that in a number of cases the ticket office could be closed and replaced with a machine. Apparently there is a 'hit list' of 675 stations which could be subject to the cuts, including 165 in London and the south east and 114 in the north west.
The union demanded that the government rules out the cuts, citing problems buying tickets and safety issues for women travelling alone. It is launching a Save our Stations campaign and will tour the party conferences this autumn to get MPs to campaign on behalf of their local ticket office.
However, the decision over the cuts isn't that straightforward. On the one hand, there may be a great deal to be gained from cutting back on ticket offices. The boring business of issuing tickets can indeed be performed by a machine, with no need for real human interaction at all. You only have to take a look at the endless rows of machines at any London mainline station to see hundreds of thousands of people go through the process every day far quicker than when they had to stand for hours in line waiting for a real person to see them.
However, the problems start when something goes wrong. The machines, for example, are not infallible. There comes the day when you can't get your pre-booked ticket before departure, the day it swallows your card and refuses to issue a ticket, or the day when the software is on the blink entirely and no-one can get a modicum of sense out of it.
Then there are the days when something goes wrong with the train. With no ticket office, and standard announcements simply telling you your train has been delayed, there's no way of understanding just how serious the problem is. Has the train been cancelled altogether? Is there a bigger problem on the line? Should you look for an alternative route? is there another train you can take? These are the sorts of things an informed person in the ticket office could help you with - a machine is next to useless.
So what's the answer? Will we have machines supported with a system that will inform ticket collectors and destination stations that you shouldn't pay a penalty because it wasn't your fault? Will we have an on-platform helpline that centralises all questions to deal with them efficiently and effectively when something goes wrong? Or will we have a poorly executed compromise, where we are stranded with broken ticket machines and trains that never show up and left to deal with the consequences?
We will know more next month when the government responds in full to the report. Personally my money would be on the latter. But what do you think? Let us know in the comments.