Rail Journeys and Access issues for a wheelchair user!

On 4th January I had cause to travel to London with my Hubby and son. Managed to book the tickets the day before, luckily still got plenty of discount as was unlikely to be a popular travel time.

I booked the tickets online as usual, got the discount for having a Disabled Rail Card all fine any dandy. Well that is what the ordinary punter would think.

Then a Wheelchair user must contact the Travel Assistance people to arrange transfers & assistance. This will ensure there is a person at the train with a ramp so that you and your wheelchair can board. Why there can’t be a box to click to say you need a wheelchair ramp and to book the correct space, I don’t know, but the people on the assistance line are fantastic to be fair & you can usually have a lovely chat.

The staff are really helpful on the assistance line and they then send you an email confirming the changes and that you are booked.

It appears that something happens between the Assistance Team and the Ramp people because for some reason there often appears to be a wheelchair and a person sat at the train doors waiting for a ramp to get them on or off.

Now on say 85% of journeys this system seems to work well. However from time to time there seems to be some sort of black hole of information sharing.

Yesterday got on the train ok but there was much kerfuffle the trains being coupled together were not the trains that were meant to be put together but the train seemed to go off on time.

We were aware of possible delays, the weather being as it was. We arrived exactly 22 minutes late as we were advised thought the journey. You’d expect that with advance notice that the assistance at the other end would be ready and waiting for me to disembark? No not a chance, I was left waiting for a good 15 minutes for the ramp to arrive. If I hadn’t booked it in advance I’d have expected it but I’d booked and was just left sitting there like a spare part. Good job I wasnt getting off at a stop along the way or I’d end up travelling up and down the lines until I was able to make a bid for freedom.

I did contemplate trying to take a good wheelup and trying to leap like Evil Keneval from the train onto the platform. My son persuaded me not to do that until I have had my wheelchair upgraded and a jet pack fitted.

The return journey was much better and luckily we had the kind of tickets that meant we could leave on an earlier train, the assistance man was called whilst we were speaking to mobility assistance people. We got on the train easily and the staff on board asked a number of time where I needed to get off and they must have been in excellent contact with the assistance staff because the ramp was there ready to be placed by the doors so that I could get off immediately.

The system could with just a tiny bit of thought be so much better. There are very limited numbers of wheelchair spaces on trains so if it were possible to arrange it all within the online process it would save so much time and worry for so many disabled people.

Another thing that baffles me is why on Virgin Trains the wifi is from another provider! That seems a bizarre thing to do when Virgin operate the trains, it would make sense to use their own wifi on their trains.

This may not seem a big deal but getting around in a wheelchair is not as easy as you may imagine, despite the Disabaility Discrimination Act and the regulations regarding access etc etc, so many places are not accessible.

It doesn’t appear to be a problem to most people until they are with a disabled friend in a wheelchair, then they realise how much of a problem access for wheelchair users really are. That’s possibly why you don’t see many disabled people out and about more often.

Even kerb dips can be a major problem. Many are not parallel to each other and this can cause fear, risk of injury and means the going to anywhere unfamiliar is filled with anxiety and dread. It really isn’t much to ask that there be dips at every kerb, that they are not steep and that they have the all important raised srones to help the blind so that they know they are coming to the end of a footpath. The parallel dips also assist them as they can walk forward in a straight line and know they have reached the edge of the pavement and are no longer at risk of traffic.

Little things that needn’t cost much if anything at all. When a road is dug up by a utility company that part of the reparation to the public for the inconvenience is that they put the dipped kerbs in. At least then the public will feel they have at least gained some benefit from the whole disruption.

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