Life

No staff, no trains and queues out the door: Inside the daily chaos of Manchester Piccadilly station

The customers and workers affected by disrupted services at the north's rail hub, Manchester Piccadilly station

Trains Up North

Image: Big Issue

It’s early October and a torrent of people are leaving Manchester Piccadilly station. There’s a Man United match, a large Irish funeral and Saturday shopping to be done. By late lunch, the board is lit up with delays and around a dozen trains have been cancelled. This is a normal day.

The daily chaos, some say, is set to get much worse with plans to shut swathes of ticket offices across the country. Paired with the scrapping of the northern leg of HS2, passengers are not happy at the prospect of fewer staff and no high-speed rail.

“I got the train from Lancaster yesterday just in time, but then a train caught fire in Leeds,” says Brendan Jennings, a 20-year-old student who is waiting for a replacement bus service after a night out. “Then today overhead lines came down.”

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Jennings is autistic and says that at times he’d prefer a ticket office to a machine. “The staff are absolutely lovely. The amount of shit I’ve seen happen at a train station, I don’t want them to be unstaffed.”

A stone’s throw away is George Mork, a 28-year-old data administrator from Brentford, who is on the phone to Avanti to complain about his journey.

“In London it’s mostly fine, but that probably tells you a lot,” he says of his experience with British trains. “I get the coach. It’s not faster, but it’s cheaper and more reliable. I can’t drive so I have to use public transport.”

Lisa McEvoy, a 50-year-old occupational therapist who has travelled from Chorley, agrees: “Going to Chester takes hours and hours and it’s a very short journey. We’re going to need to invest if we’re going to achieve anything near carbon neutral.

“I work with people who have head injuries,” McEvoy says. “They might be unable to use a machine but they can go to the ticket office and tell someone where they’d like to go. People with age-related cognitive decline, vision problems, people who aren’t very tech-savvy – they’ll all be affected.

“Just today I got the train and the ticket office split the ticket at Horwich and it made it much cheaper. Their knowledge and skills will be lost and we’re not going to be able to match it.”

Nearby is 75-year-old Elton Darlo, wearing a sunflower lanyard. Darlo is known around Manchester for his biro drawings that he sketches in public.

“Coming this way this morning it was absolutely jam-packed. Under Covid that would never have been allowed… Coughs and sneezes spread diseases. And public transport is horrific with it.”

Darlo thinks that closing ticket offices is “absolutely ridiculous”.

“What about the disabled, the dyslexic, the vulnerable?” he asks.

On the other side of the glass

Passengers aren’t the only ones to suffer from office closures. Seb, whose name has been changed to protect his job, works at Manchester Piccadilly station for Avanti West Coast. He says conditions are at “breaking point” for staff.

“It makes no sense at all, for tourism, for safety, for the sheer passenger numbers we see,” he says. “It’s like someone has made these decisions without knowing anything about the railway.”

Manchester Piccadilly is run by Avanti West Coast and can sometimes see more than 100,000 passengers in a day. Nearby station Manchester Oxford Road – which is operated by Northern Rail and is much smaller – will retain its ticket office.

“Little stations like Glossop will stay open but ones like Manchester Piccadilly and London Euston will close? It’s ridiculous,” Seb says.

“We already close early every day. We’re having complaints because people can’t get tickets, machines are broken. And it all stems back from not having a ticket office.”

Seb doesn’t think having staff on the concourse will be a good alternative. “We have staff currently who have to be seated during the full shift who wouldn’t be able to work on the concourse. It has been brought up, but there’s been no answer.”

And on HS2? “Typical government forgetting the north.”

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.

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