Disabled rail passengers face restrictions at one in 10 stations

Driver–only trains and unstaffed stations mean people needing help to board cannot turn up and travel at nearly 300 stations

More than one in 10 railways stations in Britain do not allow disabled passengers to “turn up and go” on some or all train services, according to research by campaigners.

The accessibility problems are caused by a combination of “driver-only operation” (DOO) trains and unstaffed stations, which result in a lack of staff to help disabled passengers board their train. Some stations have no step-free access.

According to data compiled by the Association of British Commuters (ABC), a voluntary campaign group, six rail operators have staffing policies that mean disabled passengers cannot simply turn up and travel on certain services at nearly 300 stations, concentrated in London and the south-east. Instead, they have to pre-book what are often suburban rail journeys, wait for staff to arrive from another station to assist them, or give up on travelling from that station.

“When there is no staff presence, the option of spontaneous access on an equal basis with others is just literally not there, it cannot happen,” said ABC’s Emily Yates, lead researcher on the project.

“The mobile staffing that they offer as a replacement has no maximum wait time, and no projected wait time or reassurance. In fact, the accessible transport policies even say: ‘Don’t travel without pre-booking, we strongly discourage this, you’ll be subject to a long wait time’.”

ABC defined “turn up and go” as being where staff are present to allow disabled passengers who have just arrived at the station to board their train. Based on this, only one of 25 stations served by rail firm c2c always offers turn-up-and-go travel to disabled passengers, and only 10 of 35 stations served by Chiltern Railways.

In addition, ABC said turn-up-and-go assistance is not always available – and in some cases never available – at 45% of stations served by Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), 38% of stations served by Southeastern, 32% of stations served by Greater Anglia and 16% of those served by Great Western Railway.

The industrial dispute involving the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) includes disagreements over rail firms’ plans to increase the use of DOO trains and close ticket offices.

“The discrimination that I’ve faced since becoming a wheelchair user is night and day, and it is constant every time I go anywhere or do anything,” said Sam Jennings, who secured compensation and commitments on access from Govia-owned rail operator Southern after enduring months of discrimination on its services. “I realised [the wheelchair] had given me my freedom back – and then I became disabled by the railway.”

Jennings encountered more than 30 “access fails” on the rail network in the first 18 months of using a wheelchair, including unstaffed stations meaning she couldn’t board, staff not using ramps to help her board, getting put on the wrong train by staff, and being left stranded at stations with no step-free exits.

The six rail providers told the Observer that their accessibility arrangements had been approved by the regulator, the Office of Rail and Road, which requires them to provide “reasonably practicable” assistance to disabled passengers.

The six providers said they could deploy mobile staffing teams, or redeploy staff from a nearby station, to assist a passenger at an unstaffed station. GTR, c2c and Southeastern said ABC’s figures on staffing hours were wrong, but did not provide the Observer with correct figures of their own.

A spokesperson for the Department for Transport said: “Everyone should be able to travel with confidence, and the safety of passengers will always be our top priority.

“We want to modernise the railway by moving staff on to platforms to provide more face-to-face assistance, and our Passenger Assist app is ensuring those with disabilities receive assistance quicker than ever.”


Chaminda Jayanetti

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Season ticket sales slide as passengers rebel against cost of rail travel
Latest figures suggest fed-up commuters are abandoning the train as fares are set to rise again

Jamie Doward and Toby Helm

30, Dec, 2017 @8:14 PM

Article image
Network Rail promises improvements for disabled passengers
A new culture is needed, says rail infrastructure owner, after admitting some travellers have found using the train ‘incredibly difficult’

Gwyn Topham Transport correspondent

11, Jul, 2016 @5:00 AM

Article image
UK rail fare rise ‘will force key workers to quit city jobs’
Cost of commuting unfairly penalises public sector staff and part-time workers, warns union

Toby Helm and Gwyn Topham

19, Aug, 2017 @11:05 PM

Article image
Jobs lost and broken relationships: legacy of the Southern rail crisis
The collateral damage for commuters grows ever more devastating after ten months of disputes between unions and Southern over staffing

Tracy McVeigh

21, Jan, 2017 @9:09 PM

Article image
Strikes and damaged lines bring more misery for train passengers
Public warned to check travel information before leaving home as disruption from heatwave continues

Mattha Busby

28, Jul, 2019 @8:00 AM

Article image
Chris Grayling to blame for rail chaos, says Lord Adonis
Former Labour transport minister says his successor should have blocked train timetable changes – ‘I did when I was in charge’

Gwyn Topham Transport correspondent

09, Jun, 2018 @11:18 AM

Article image
Avanti paid shareholders £11.5m despite ‘abysmal’ service for rail users
Train operator under fire for dividend payment amid severe cuts on its west coast main line

Jon Ungoed-Thomas

21, Aug, 2022 @8:00 AM

Article image
Revealed: the £12bn bill for scrapping high-speed rail link
As Boris Johnson assesses project, Tory mayor for West Midlands warns of political cost of scrapping it

Michael Savage

26, Jan, 2020 @9:37 AM

Article image
Dazzling views and a boy wizard keep magical rail route on track
Robin McKie takes a trip on the West Highland line as it marks its 125th anniversary. While tourists flock to the Harry Potter locations on the way, what future do locals see for the service?

Robin McKie

20, Jul, 2019 @1:00 PM

Article image
Rail strikes spell Glastonbury travel trouble – and small events fear ‘catastophe’
As coach bookings soar for the festival in Somerset, the live music industry warns of the impact on other concerts

Shanti Das

12, Jun, 2022 @7:00 AM