THE operators of Sheffield rail station came under huge pressure yesterday to think again about blocking a pedestrian through route.
Politicians from both major parties on the council were furious at East Midlands Trains' decision, without notice, to prevent people without valid train tickets passing through the station.
Rail staff checking tickets at the entrances led to scenes of chaos and confusion on Wednesday morning as some pedestrians, including parents with pushchairs, were forced to use a rundown and graffiti-strewn footbridge off Cross Turner Street, at the side of the station, instead of the new well-lit footbridge through the heart of the station.
"I am extremely angry and have conveyed my disdain to the highest level at East Midlands Trains," said Labour MP Richard Caborn, whose Central constituency includes the station and who has been talking to the Government about finding a solution to the controversy over the proposed installation of ticket barriers.
Liberal Democrat council leader Paul Scriven described the situation as "utterly disgraceful" and said the company "should be ashamed of how they have conducted themselves in this matter".
One mother, Michaela Kelly, aged 29, of Frecheville, who became caught up in the angry scenes yesterday morning had to get help from passers-by to carry her pram, and baby Ruby-Ellen, down steps.
She said: "I had no idea that the station bridge was shut, it's come as a nasty surprise. After months of discussions they go and do it without warning. No wonder the staff were getting abuse."
A long-running campaign has been waged by campaign groups, residents and all parties at the Town Hall in opposition to the train company's plans to install automated ticket barriers to deter fare dodging.
In the event, a manual system of checking tickets was launched, albeit briefly, yesterday, effectively closing the station to all but train passengers. The move surprised and shocked opponents, who believed the whole issue was still under negotiation.
An EMT spokesman said a "line had to be drawn" after months of discussions. Manual barriers were a half-measure compared with the automatic barriers desired by the firm. He added: "It's not a problem of our making, we were left with no choice."
Critics say cutting the direct pedestrian link means a longer, more inconvenient and much less attractive path having to be taken between the city centre, a Supertram stop at the back of the station and Norfolk Park and Park Hill. A direct route through the station is also seen as crucial to the strategy of linking the new digital campus at Pond Street, the station and Park Hill flats, which are being redeveloped.
Mr Caborn believed a way could be found of checking tickets as passengers arrived at platforms without disrupting the flow through the station and was optimistic as talks continued with the Government. "I am still discussing an alternative with the Government," he said. "I believe there is a solution." Meanwhile he has made clear his anger to EMT.
"I have told them not to do a daft thing like this again."
The issue was being raised as a matter of urgency at yesterday afternoon's full meeting of the council. Coun Scriven said yesterday that EMT was effectively cutting the city in half. "We were told of this development this morning, which they say they 'regret', but obviously money speaks louder than people's views and concerns.
Using the excuse of consultation now being at an 'impasse' is no excuse. I have contacted the Secretary of State to demand that the Government intervene immediately."
EMT's letter to the council says: "Our business plans assumed the gates would be installed from spring this year and consequently without the gates we need to find another way to fill the gap. For that reason, and with regret, from this morning we have therefore started to conduct a rolling programme of revenue protection checks at each end of the station, using our staff."
Campaign group Residents Against Station Closure immediately wrote to EMT saying that in the week that Transport Minister Lord Adonis had given Sheffield station top marks for facilities and services, "it is appalling that EMT believes it has a mandate to create chaos there in the name of 'revenue protection'."
Geraldine Roberts, who chairs the group, said people, including those with valid tram tickets, were livid at not being allowed to pass through the station.
The group fears the station will now be closed to people without train tickets on a random basis.
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