I travel on trains regularly to go down to London to visit museums. It only takes an hour and a half to get to King’s Cross from Newark Northgate, which is not bad. However the provisions for wheelchair users on trains need drastic improvement.
I will tell you about what happened on my most recent trip to London.
I booked assistance online two days in advance. No problem (or so I thought). At Newark station, I noticed there was another wheelchair user sat on the platform also waiting to board. Oh God! There’s 2 of us! There is only enough space for one wheelchair user (2 at a push) in the accessible bit of the carriage. So I knew it was going to be a squeeze to fit both of us in.
So imagine my surprise, when I noticed there was yet ANOTHER wheelchair user already on board! So that meant there was three of us who had to squeeze into this area that was designed for nothing bigger than a pram.
“This is going to be interesting!” I remember thinking to myself, and indeed it was.
Luckily one of the wheelchair users was a small boy so he had a smaller wheelchair than mine. He sat behind the table on the left side of the carriage, and I sat next to him. If the little boy’s wheelchair was the same size as mine than It would have been impossible to fit 3 wheelchair users in there. The table would have been in the way. The 3rd wheelchair user had to be squeezed in sideways facing the window on the right side of the carriage. Her back wheels were blocking the aisle. So, people had to squeeze through a small gap (maybe about 30 cm or less) between mine and the ladies chair.
So not only was it inconveniencing us, but also the people who were trying to walk past us down the aisle. If there was an emergency evacuation then it would be dangerous, as people would probably trip over us in panic.
I had always wondered what would happen if more than one wheelchair user wanted to use the train at the same time, and now I know. It makes life difficult because the system is not designed for it.
On a typical East Midlands train of about eight carriages there are only TWO wheelchair spaces – one in standard class and one in first class. A member of staff told me this so I know it is true.
Only the toilet in standard class is accessible to wheelchairs. Strange, as you would expect first-class to be better. On the occasion that I had to travel in first class, my chair would not fit in the toilet, so I had to pee in the aisle and hope nobody would walk by. I’m pretty sure this infringes on my human right to privacy by the way, not to mention it is discriminating against wheelchair users.
One thing that is better for wheelchair users in first-class is that there is more space. I don’t have to squeeze my chair in behind the table. This begs the question, why should only first-class wheelchair users have the luxury of more space? This is not about comfort this is about practicality. Wheelchair users should not have to pay more to make their lives easier. More space should come as standard, it’s just common sense.
I am unable to go on a train in my powerchair because there is not enough space in the train. The corners are too sharp, the aisle is too narrow and there is not enough space in the accessible seating area. Trains need to be designed for large wheelchairs so that they can cope with a wheelchair of ANY size, and not just small ones. There IS a better way. South-West trains had carriages where there was enough space to get at least two powerchairs sat next to each other, and we have enough room to turn around. Look how much space there is on this train in Australia:
Why can’t all trains be like that?
Another thing that annoys me is that we have to book assistance at least 24 hours in advance. If we don’t then people may not be available to get the ramp for the train. But how difficult is it to put a ramp down for someone when asked? It would take five minutes. There is a simple solution in my mind: have a ramp that folds out from the floor (just like in black cabs). So that passengers can use it themselves and don’t have to wait for a member of staff.
The Improvements Needed
So, here are the improvements that need to be made in my opinion:
- AT LEAST one wheelchair space in EVERY carriage, so that wheelchairs are not piling up on top of each other when there is more than one of them.
- Wheelchair accessible toilet in EVERY carriage
- More space for wheelchair users to manoeuvre
- Have ramps that fold away into the floor for trains so that passengers can use it themselves and we don’t have to wait for someone to do it for us