A fire was started on the footbridge at Hove Station – a second incident of anti-social behaviour in just over a week.
The small fire was reported to train operator Southern, part of Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), which runs the station, at about 5.30am on Tuesday (15 August).
The company said that East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service put out the fire within minutes of arriving.
The operation of the station and train services were unaffected.
A Southern staff member, who opened up Hove Station at 3am, said that the fire started out of sight of the security cameras on the footbridge between 2am and 5am.
She said that the station just smelt of smoke and that it could be smelt from the bottom of the road by the top of George Street.
The fire is the second incident of anti-social behaviour in 10 days. Some magazines in two boxes and some comics were stolen from the Hove Station newsagent. The owner dismissed it as a late-night prank.
GTR’s safety, health and security director Samantha Facey said: “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.”
Southern said that Hove Station did not have a high incidence of anti-social behaviour compared with other stations along the coast.
Hove Station Neighbourhood Forum has been campaigning for security cameras to be fitted on the footbridge next to Hove Station for several years now.
And last year Brighton and Hove Council allocated £500,000 over two years to repair the footbridge and make it safer, with the money due to be spent in the current financial year and next year, 2024-25.
But little if any work appears to have been carried out and the footbridge remains in need of urgent refurbishment.
Mike Gibson, who chairs the Hove Station Neighbourhood Forum, said that security cameras should be linked to the existing CCTV (closed-circuit television) in the station and monitored by station staff.
Southern said: “We will always welcome practical proposals to improve safety and security around our stations for local communities, our passengers and colleagues.”
The latest incidents come as a consultation takes place about a plan to close all railway ticket offices across the country.
Train operators have said that they want to move staff out of ticket offices and on to station concourses because most people now buy their tickets from a machine or purchase e-tickets online digitally.
After a public outcry, the consultation has been extended until Friday 1 September to give more passengers the opportunity to make their views heard.
Concerns are greatest among disabled and elderly passengers – some of whom struggle to use the machines.
Others find the fare structure complex and prefer to buy tickets from a staff member to ensure that they buy the cheapest ticket.
Sanja Bignall, from 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 (Amanda) 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.”
When GTR started the public consultation, the company said: “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.
GTR said: “It’s key to stress that no final decisions have been made though. The public consultation has been launched (and now extended to Friday 1 September) so the industry can get everyone’s views first. We really want to hear from as many people as possible.”
To respond online to the consultation, click here.
Printed copies of the consultation can be requested at staffed stations and alternative formats are available by calling 0345 026 4700 or textphone 0800 138 1018.
Roz Scott is a freelance journalist based in Sussex. You can subscribe to her blog at www.rozscott.com.