Stuck in the steam age

Visit any railway station in the UK and you might find cause to
complain about delays, cost, maybe even about the state of the
station. But talk to disabled people and you will find that there
are many more reasons to complain about the rail network.

The first complaint may well be that a disabled person simply
doesn’t even feel they can use our trains. For all the
technological advances that have made in recent years I still find
it amazing that so many trains are not properly equipped to cater
for disabled people. I have to make fairly regular trips to London
on the train, but I know that the hassle of even the simplest
journey puts many disabled people off trying to travel at

For a start most of us are required to book in advance – the idea
is that we are meant to let the train companies know when we want
to travel so that special assistance can be arranged. But I’m sure
that just about every wheelchair user will tell you that they have
experienced arriving at a station on the day of travel to find that
their booking has been lost and the space on the train taken.

Indeed, on the trains I use to get to London there are no allocated
wheelchair spaces. I spend my journey sat in the guard’s carriage;
more often than not my carer simply has to stand there with me. It
can be cold and unpleasant and is not where paying passengers
should be placed. On these trains there is also no way a disabled
person can use the toilet during their journey – the corridors are
too narrow.

My experience of travelling on trains is that it can be a pretty
grim chore and it is high time the industry spent more time looking
at how to make things better. They will tell you that they are
putting more and more effort into making trains and stations
accessible – I hope this is the truth. But the experiences faced by
disabled people like me every day show that much more must be done,
and quickly. The government’s plan is to set a deadline of 2020 for
all trains to be accessible. So disabled people will still have 15
years to wait.

Trains do not have to comply with part III of the Disability
Discrimination Act 1995, which deals with equal access rights to
goods and services. However, the stations are covered by the law
and yet there are many that still do not offer step-free access, or
do not have appropriate visual and audio displays to help people
with sensory impairments.

Small changes can improve accessibility, but unless the industry
puts more effort into making things better the complaints from
disabled people will not be about the trains being delayed, it will
be about the train being impossible to use. Inaccessible public
transport is one of the most negative factors in my life and that
of many other disabled people. This must change.

Jennifer Phillips is a wheelchair user and a trustee of
Leonard Cheshire

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