Ticket offices at train stations should not be scrapped completely, the Transport Secretary has said, as she offered unions an olive branch ahead of fresh rail strikes.
Anne-Marie Trevelyan insisted that plans to modernise the railways were “not about cutting jobs” but reflecting the fact more passengers now buy online.
In a conciliatory speech to the Tory party conference, she said that the “very last thing that the country needs right now is more damaging industrial disputes”.
Mick Lynch, the general secretary of the RMT union, has accused “profit-hungry” train companies of seeking to close ticket offices sparking “thousands” of job losses.
He has vowed to “fight this every step of the way with our national rail strike” and urged the public to “tell the politicians they must oppose the closures”.
The Transport Secretary said that only 12 per cent of tickets are now bought at the station with the vast majority purchased online as consumer habits have shifted.
“We need to be looking at ways to move with the trend and support customers in the most effective way possible,” she said in her conference speech.
“There will be some stations where the ticket office will be important to the running of the station. In other areas, rail employees may be better in front of the glass helping passengers.
“This is not about cutting jobs – this is about putting the passenger at the heart of the railway.”
Ms Trevelyan said she was “asking industry to launch consultations on reforming our ticket office provision across the country”.
Under previous plans drawn up by rail firms, all of the almost 1,000 ticket offices across England would close, saving £500 million a year.
The proposals were ready to be implemented last month and would have seen all physical tickets replaced with digital ones.
But they sparked concerns over how elderly passengers and those who do not have smartphones or the Internet would be able to use the railways.
The Transport Secretary said there was a “deal to be done” between the unions and train operators to avert more damaging strikes this winter.
She stressed that any agreement “will require compromise” but struck a softer note than her predecessor in the post, Grant Shapps.
“The more quickly we can resolve these disputes, the sooner all our efforts can be spent on getting our economy motoring at full speed,” she said.
“We want to transform the rail industry to make it sustainable for the next hundred years, so the very last thing that the country needs right now is more damaging industrial disputes.
“My message to the trade union membership is simple - please take your seats at the negotiating table and let’s find a landing zone which we can all work with.
“Punishing passengers and inflicting damage on our economy by striking is not the answer.
“I can tell you there is a deal to be done between the unions and our train operators, it’s a deal that will require compromise.
“So, I want to see positive proposals to bridge those differences.”