MPs made a powerful plea to the Government to ramp up efforts to ensure accessible railway stations in Britain for disabled people.
Debating in Parliament on Wednesday, members argued that despite “generous” public funds being set aside for improvements and initiatives such as the Access For All programme, many stations “still lack the facilities” to cater for “the disabled, the elderly and those who are simply struggling with heavy luggage or push chairs”.
The debate on accessibility at railway stations, which was put forward by MP for Hendon and North London Dr Matthew Offord, highlighted issues with individual railway operators bidding for funding to make stations more accessible. It also suggested a lack of communication between networks made providing information to disabled passengers about their journeys particularly challenging.
“Many of my constituents are advised to use other stations that are accessible in London if there is no step-free access to the platform,” Dr Offord said.
“There is something fundamentally wrong about asking disabled passengers to use a station which is not most local to them in order to access our transport networks.”
Image credit: Dr Matthew Offord/WikiCommons
He went on to describe the death of an elderly constituent who used public transport to get to London to have treatment for leukemia. She died after tripping on the steps at Mill Hill Broadway station last year.
Due to the general access to and from the platforms, he said, “passengers were forced to step over and around” her during rush hour.
“The defibrillator could not be located. But even when it had been, it is an unlikely space that constraints would mean that the equipment could not be used… She did not survive the fall. The tragedy would have been wholly avoided if there had been a lift at Mill Hill Broadway.”
Poor Signage And Lack Of Communication
The Access For All program was launched in 2006 with £360million to provide accessible routes from the station entrance to the platform. This was extended in 2014 with a further £163million.
More than 150 stations have been completed, and another 68 projects in construction. There are more than 2,560 passenger railway stations on the Network Rail network, and there are 13.9 million disabled people in the UK.
However, physical infrastructure is just one of the challenges faced by disabled people trying to access transport in the UK.
“A lack of step-free access is a serious and important issue which is just one of the many barriers disabled people face when trying to access the rail network,” campaigner and journalist Liam O’Dell tells RightsInfo.
The current situation with rail accessibility is shocking, and it must change – fast.
Campaigner and journalist, Liam O’Dell
Schrödinger’s Train: where faulty screen displays means a train is both in motion and not in service at the same time. For the sake of #deaf and disabled customers, we need clear, accurate and accessible travel information. This has to change. #GiveUsASign pic.twitter.com/BtzwDoTYKi
— Liam O'Dell (@LiamODellUK) March 21, 2019
“As a deaf person, I rely on clear and accessible signage to understand key information about my journey. Yet when it comes to delays, vital announcements are often made over garbled and poor quality tannoy systems, creating a sense of loss and confusion which no rail passenger should have to experience.
“This problem also extends to screen displays on the platform and on the trains themselves. On my local train service, these displays often show inaccurate information or are turned off altogether.
“The current situation with rail accessibility is shocking, and it must change – fast.”
Overcrowding Is A Very Real Danger
Political activist Rosie Loker shares a particularly worrying experience of trying to catch a late train from Waterloo recently.
“They announced that my train would be leaving from the far end of the platform only three minutes before it was due to leave,” she said.
“I walk very slowly and cannot run so it was a struggle to get there in time. I also discovered that the step on to the train is higher at the far end of the platform, and I couldn’t get up. There were no members of staff around to help.
I feel very vulnerable standing waiting for a platform to be announced.
Political activist Rosie Loker speaks about her recent rail experiences.
“With very little time, I asked a fellow passenger to help me and ended up falling on to the train, hurting myself. This kind of unpredictability is a big part of the problem – I know how long it takes me to get to the platform normally and which train doors to use, so most of the time I can travel independently without problems. But when something changes or goes wrong it causes a big problem.”
Overcrowding, she says, is also an issue.
“Busy concourses can be a big problem for disabled people, particularly those with invisible disabilities, and I feel very vulnerable standing waiting for a platform to be announced.
“I’ve been knocked over several times, and the anxiety I get about travelling through busy stations has caused me to have panic attacks on a couple of occasions. If there are ever delays, cancellations or strikes I avoid stations like Waterloo altogether now. These situations are inconvenient for everyone, but they can be dangerous for disabled people.”
The Minister’s Response
Transport and Maritime Minister Nusrat Ghani responded to the debate by declaring that delivering a transport network that was accessible to everyone was important to the Government.
“By 2030 we want all disabled people to have the same access to transport as everyone else, and if physical infrastructure remains a barrier, then assistance will play a role to guarantee those rights,” she added.
Image credit: Nusrat Ghani/ WikiCommons
She went on to announce the development of a new Passenger Assist app that could help passengers navigate their journeys and contact members of transport staff if needed.
Under the Equality Act 2010 it is unlawful for public service providers to treat disabled people less favourably because they are disabled.
The Equality Act also requires reasonable adjustments to be made to structures in relation to accessibility. In practice, this means that due regard must be given to any specific needs of likely building users that might be reasonably met.