Arriva Rail North’s antipathy to slopes

I traveled to Salford today, after my interesting time booking my trip to visit my Dad. I fully expected a lot to go wrong. Sadly, I was right.

Inventive placement of reserved sign in the wheelchair space

The TransPennine from Leeds to Manchester was OK, except that the hand-dryer in the toilet was non-functional. One of the two wheelchair spaces was reserved for me; the other one was unreserved and unoccupied – so despite TransPennine’s staff claiming otherwise, there evidently was no reason why they couldn’t and wouldn’t book me in.

TransPennine didn’t bother putting a “slot” for the Reserved ticket in their train wheelchair spaces. Every standard seat, yes – but not in the wheelchair spaces. So staff have to get inventive about how and where they affix the reservation card.

Failed assistance

At Manchester Victoria everything unraveled as usual. The assistance I had spent so long booking didn’t turn up to get me off the train. The TransPennine train guard got the ramp himself. I then wandered around Manchester Victoria in a disorganised and lost fashion until I found the connecting train for Salford. With still no assistance staff around, the dispatch staff deployed the ramp and helped me on board.

National Rail Enquiries' station page for Salford Central station
National Rail Enquiries’ station page for Salford Central station

Then the guard came. The dispatch staff had evidently told him I was intending to get off at Salford Central, cos he told me that it is not possible for wheelchair users to get off at Salford Central. He said the platform is too low and it makes the ramp from the train to the platform too steep for safety.

TransPennine Assisted Travel had happily booked assistance for me to travel to Salford Central in my wheelchair; they evidently didn’t think there is a problem. Neither does National Rail Enquiries, which blithely notes there’s ramped access to the ticket office and all platforms, and a ramp available to get on or off a train.

Staff at Manchester Vic commented that it was not good that TransPennine assistance staff didn’t know about the access problems at Salford. Man Vic staff had a conflab about how to get me where I needed to be. It’s a 2 minute train ride so shouldn’t take long, but my meeting was in 12 minutes time, and even though there was a set of accessible taxis waiting outside the station, Arriva Rail North would have to call in their contracted firm whom typically took 20 minutes just to turn up.

So they put me on a bus. They told me the bus would take me direct to the venue, but that wasn’t the case. I had no idea where I was or where I was going, so it’s a good job the (very helpful) station staff gave me a map.

In the end, I turned up at the meeting 20 minutes late, instead of 10 minutes early.

I phoned a manager at TransPennine Express, who had dealt with my complaint about my booking experience. He tried to sort out how I would get home again afterwards (for which I am grateful.) He attempted to get TransPennine to book a taxi for the first leg home. The result was that whilst I was in my meeting, I received several embarrassing missed calls. When I eventually answered the phone (despite my hearing loss), TransPennine’s assisted travel team told me that TransPennine wouldn’t pay for a taxi because Salford Central is run by Arriva Rail North. He also said there are not normally any access problems at Salford.

I had to phone the TransPennine manager again, and he attempted the taxi booking again.

All of these phone conversations took place during my 3 hour window in Salford, during my meeting and lunch with my Dad. So not only did I have my journeys disrupted, it interrupted and spoilt my day out.

Levitation required

Ramps at Salford Central

I arrived at Salford Central a few minutes early for the return journey, so I thought I’d see what the problem was. They’ve spent a lot on modernising the building with impressive Approved Document M compatible ramps and lifts throughout the station. However, when a train came in, I could immediately see the problem for wheelchair access.

A Pacer at Salford Central station
A Pacer at Salford Central station

The warning on the platform edge says “Mind the Step“. I think it should say “Mind the Leap and the Bound” as well. That is one maHOOsive step.

It wasn’t just a problem for the hateful Pacer; it was the same with a Sprinter:

Pacer and Sprinter at Salford Central

The Sprinter’s floor is a little lower so it’s just at knee height and not the Pacer’s gonad height, but it’s still a significant height difference; and I would pity anybody (including me) attempting to push my bulk up a ramp onto it. (Sadly, when I became a wheelchair user the NHS had a temporary supply issue with jetpacks and their levitation therapist was off sick, so I missed those essential skills and equipment – and without it Salford Central station is pretty inaccessible.)

There are clear and undeniable problems that affect wheelchair access at Salford Central. Which leads me to question:

  • Why wasn’t the platform sorted when the rest of the station was renovated?
  • Why describe it as fully accessible when it isn’t?
  • Why did TransPennine’s staff member deny there is an issue?

Taxis and toilets

It was a good job that TransPennine’s taxi turned up. It wasn’t comfortable; as a very tall person in a wheelchair accessible cab, I have to travel backwards whilst hunched over. Comfy – not.

Doug in an “Accessible” Taxi

The trials didn’t end there: there was of course no toilet in the taxi, and the toilet on the Transpennine was out-of-order, so I had to wait until I got to Leeds.

I was exhausted so I decided to spoil myself with a taxi home. What a wonderful welcome I received at Leeds Station Taxi Rank!

“Wheelchairs cross here”

This looked familiar from 2015…

GETT booking history

I thought I’d wait a bit to see if anybody noticed it and sorted it out. But no, 2½ hours later, the cones were still there…

In the meantime I tried Gett. An app by which people in Leeds can book taxis. I recently asked Gett how I could book a wheelchair accessible taxi; they said to put my need in the “Notes for Drivers“.

Turns out that Gett drivers don’t bother reading the Notes. 4 drivers accepted the booking, then asked me to cancel when they realised I am a wheelchair user – one only when he turned up. When one of the previous four inaccessible cabs accepted my fifth attempt to book, I gave up.

The next time somebody says British public transport is effortlessly accessible…

tell them where to get off.