On Track for 2020?: The Future of Accessible Rail Travel

Paul Plummer

Britain runs on rail. Our railway, an increasingly important public service, carries more than 4.5million customers a day. It plays a vital role connecting people to jobs, housing and loved ones.

Together, rail companies are investing to improve now and for the long term and we want to make the railway more accessible so that it is as easy as possible for everyone, especially older and disabled people, to travel by train independently.

That is why the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) which brings together train operators and Network Rail to improve the railway commissioned, more than two years ago, the expert report On Track for 2020?: The Future of Accessible Rail Travel<https://www.raildeliverygroup.com/about-us/publications.html?task=file.download&id=469772981>. The report was written for the industry to help us to understand the challenges we face.

The report acknowledges that the industry has come a long way and has opened up the railway to many more customers and since its publication, with advice and guidance from customers and action groups, we have done a lot more.

We are more focussed than ever on improving accessibility, with an action plan informed directly by our customers’ insight. A three-year programme has been developed by RDG in close collaboration with train companies, Network Rail, and key partners  We have engaged with National Disability Advocacy Groups to ensure our plans directly address and support the needs of those they represent.

Today disability groups are far more involved in helping to shape our work. We’re working on several initiatives, all developed in conjunction with disability groups, to make journeys better for disabled people now and for the long term, including:

  • One ‘phone number to make it easier for people to book assistance, and one textphone number for people who are hard of hearing;
  • An on-line street-view style view of the inside of some stations so that people can check before they travel how they’re going to get around;
  • A universal ramp, instead of the current 20 or so types, to make it quicker and easier for wheelchair users to get on and off trains; and
  • We can now put information about accessible toilets on customer information screens and apps.

Rail services are now far more accessible than ever before. Record numbers of disabled people are travelling by train and the vast majority travel without booking assistance in advance. We want to invest even more. We want to continue to work with customers, campaigners and government to help us secure more funding and agree how best to spend what is available to continue modernising the railway to make it even more accessible and meet all our customers’ expectations.

We want also to ensure that those who most require assistance get the help they need.  Customers do not have to book assistance before travelling with us; we only recommend this to ensure we can provide the best possible service.

Modernising the railway to ensure staff are deployed in roles that support all of our customers is an important part of improving services and accessibility for everyone.

By harnessing modern technology and introducing smarter working, we are making train travel not just more accessible but more reliable and more comfortable. For example, trains where drivers close the doors can help us to give customers better services.  We can’t deliver a more accessible railway by turning back the clock, which is in nobody’s interest.

Driver-controlled trains are already in operation across parts of the network and this will benefit more customers, not less. On many Southern trains, for instance, drivers now close the doors while on-board supervisors are free instead to help passengers, including older people and those with disabilities, on trains and at stations. Across the GTR network which  includes Southern, more trains than before now run with a second member of staff on board. On Merseyrail, new trains and platforms will mean people in wheelchairs or with buggies can get on trains largely unassisted using a sliding step. Trains have also been designed with wider, more open carriages with clearer spaces for wheelchairs so it’s easier for wheelchair users once they’re on board. And customer service roles will see staff in the train, more visible to help passengers than now.

We know that there is more work to and as a nation we need to have an honest debate about how much we are willing to invest to achieve what we all want to see.

Investment in rail is making journey better and helping to ensure that customers can use our services with ease, comfort and confidence. We are committed to working with disability groups as we strive to make the improvements that will make a real difference to the experience of all our customers.

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