Fire at Southern Rail Station in Hove increases concerns over unmanned ticket offices

A small fire broke out on the footbridge of Hove station and was reported to Southern Rail at about 5.30am on Tuesday 15 August. A spokesperson from Southern said East Sussex Fire Service attended and extinguished the fire within a few minutes. Operation of the station and train services were not affected.

A Southern Rail staff member, who opened up Hove Station at 3am, said the fire took place on the footbridge where there is no CCTV between 2am and 5am. She said the station, “just smelt of smoke. You could smell it from the bottom of the road” at the junction with George St.

The fire is the second incident of antisocial behaviour in the last ten days. The Hove Station newsagent, had some magazines stolen in two boxes and comics were removed. He thinks it was a late-night prank by young people. The newsagent said: “There’s no rhyme or reason to it. They did it just for a laugh, you know. The station is unmanned at night. Anyone can come in here. The doors are shut from 1am until 5am.”

Southern Rail

Samantha Facey, Govia Thameslink Railway’s Safety, Health and Security Director, said: “We know from other organisations that youth disorder is a community issue being experienced across West Sussex. Incidents of anti-social behaviour have been more common across the county since the start of school summer holidays.

“Our teams of Travel Safe Officers and Rail Enforcement Officers continue to support the efforts of our policing partners, schools and social services as we work together to tackle this issue.”

A spokesperson from Southern Rail said that Hove Station does not have a high incidence of antisocial behaviour compared to other stations along the coast.

Hove Station Neighbourhood Forum has been campaigning for CCTV on the footbridge next to Hove Station for several years now. Brighton and Hove Council allocated £250,000 in 2022-23 and the same amount next year, 2023-24, amounting to half a million pounds to make the footbridge safer for rail passengers and other residents of the neighbourhood in their five year budget. The footbridge remains in need of urgent refurbishment and very little work at all has yet been undertaken.

Network Rail, which owns the footbridge, has been approached for comment and said Brighton Council is responsible for repairs including CCTV. Mike Gibson, Chair of the Hove Station Neighbourhood Forum said CCTV should be linked to the existing CCTV in the station and monitored by station staff before the ticket offices close.

A spokesperson for Southern Rail said: “We will always welcome practical proposals to improve safety and security around our stations for local communities, our passengers and colleagues.”

Govia Thameslink has also launched an unpopular public consultation about the closure of ticket offices across the country. Their proposal is to move staff out of ticket offices onto the station concourse because most people now buy their tickets from a machine or purchase e-tickets online digitally.

Following a public outcry, this consultation has been extended until 01 September to give more passengers the opportunity to make their views heard. Concerns are greatest among disabled and elderly passengers who may struggle to use a machine. I simply prefer to buy my ticket from a person, to ensure that I get the cheapest fare.

Sanja Bignall, who is a resident of Hove, said: “I can use my phone to buy a ticket, but a lot of elderly people don’t have smartphones and they don’t necessarily know how to work machines. It’s nice to have a chat, the lady here is lovely. I think people have forgotten how important it is to have human contact.

“At Shoreham, there is a bank of machines, they had to employ people to run between them. It’s just horrible, that’s the future. The foot traffic in Hove is going to increase with all those people moving in (to the new high-rise buildings under construction currently.) You’d think they would keep the ticket office.”

Hove Station footbridge graffiti

When Govia Thameslink launched the public consultation, a spokesperson said wrote in a press release: “It’s important to say that no stations that have staff today would become unstaffed and all the accessibility assistance we provide to today would remain.

“The aspiration is that ticket office colleagues would have broader roles in the future, helping with many different types of customer service and offering a more diverse, interesting role for our people.

“These proposals are being made because the way customers buy tickets has significantly changed in recent years. We want to adapt how we sell them to modernise and improve customer service.

“Most tickets are now bought online or from ticket machines. In fact, 9 out of 10 are now bought away from traditional ticket office windows.

“Staff would still be available to help customers buy tickets and find the best value fares.

“In-person assistance would still be available to support customers purchasing from ticket machines and to support the safety and security of stations, for example by being a presence to deter anti-social behaviour. Additionally, it is proposed that 18 of GTR’s largest and busiest stations will have the ability to open their ticket offices to retail specialist tickets.”

Under the new proposals, ticket assistance would be offered at Hove Station from 6am until 11pm on weekdays and Saturdays and from 7:30am until 11:30pm on Sundays.

Govia Thameslink said: “It’s key to stress that no final decisions have been made though. The public consultation has been launched (and now extended to 1 September) so the industry can get everyone’s views first. We really want to hear from as many people as possible.”

You can respond online to Southern Rail’s public consultation here.

Printed copies of the consultation information that is available on GTR’s websites can be requested at staffed stations and alternative formats are available by calling 0345 026 4700 or textphone 0800 138 1018.

An edited version of this article was published on Brighton and Hove News website.