Interactive Map: British Driver Only Operation and Station Staffing

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Mar 292018

A co-campaigner has produced the following map from “my” Driver Only Operation and station facilities data. It shows the DOO/DCO status of British rail stations, their staffing, the presence of call points and their step-free status. Zoom in and select a station for more detail.

Driver Only and Staffing status of UK Stations. With thanks to Jeff for coding.

Station accessibility across Britain mapped

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Feb 042018
Map showing distribution of step-free and non-step-free access stations in Great Britain

A map showing the spatial distribution of stations with and without step-free access across Great Britain

This map takes step free access data for each of Great Britain’s 2,572 main-line railway stations as listed in Knowledgebase (the rail industry’s station information database) on 3rd February 2018. (There are actually 2,563 stations – the extra 9 in the database are bizarre anomalies such as including Elephant and Castle underground station.)

There are significant accuracy problems with the information in this database, particularly on step-free access. One significant problem is that the database’s owners (Rail Delivery Group) unilaterally eradicated the “partial step-free access” category in a cost-cutting exercise a couple of years ago (without changing the database specification…). In the process they designated “partially step free” stations (with step-free access to some platforms but not others) as being either entirely step-free or having no step-free access at all, without any clear method for said re-designation. Other accuracy issues include that station operating companies (mainly train operating companies and Network Rail) are… patchy in their compliance with their licensing obligation to make sure that this information is correct, and Rail Delivery Group are patchy in their technical processes for updating the database when station operators provide this information.

So the above isn’t 100% correct in detail. However, the overall impression it gives is correct.

A better version for people with colour-blindness (sorry, I should have thought of that!)

Step Free Access station coverage map for people with colour-blindness

A map showing the spatial distribution of stations with and without step-free access across Great Britain, with better colour contrast for colour-blind people.

100% of Scotrail’s stations are accessible – official

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Oct 302017

Great news! It’s official! Scotrail’s assisted travel helpline told me so it must be true – All Scotrail’s stations are 100% accessible to all passengers, including wheelchair users!

Here’s the transcript – Scotrail’s in bold, I’m not:

  • All stations we deal with are all accessible for wheelchair users.
  • All Scotrail stations? That’s impressive.
  • Yes that is correct, all Scotrail stations are accessible for all our customers.

So there you go, Scotrail have evidently become the first operator (with more than 20 stations) to achieve 100% step free, accessible status.

Their station information pages must be incorrect. These pages state that 183 of their 354 stations (52%) have no step-free access to any part of the station. (Actually that’s not accurate either, but still, there patently are Scotrail platforms / whole stations without wheelchair access.)

Rail station accessibility data

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Oct 252017

The Rail Delivery Group‘s database “Knowledgebase” contains (among other things) all the station information used e.g. on the National Rail enquiries website, including all the station accessibility information. This data is available to everybody, but in a format only programmers can use. So with help, I’ve converted the station accessibility data (and some other key data) into a spreadsheet.

Here’s the Knowledgebase stations spreadsheet in Excel format (~2.5Mb), and here’s the Knowledgebase stations spreadsheet in .csv format (~5Mb). Here’s National Rail Enquiries Knowledgebase Data Feeds Specification (PDF, 900kb) which describes what each element (should) describe.

The spreadsheet is current as of 3rd February 2018. (My spreadsheet can update the data, but I’ve removed this function from the spreadsheets here because the update mechanism uses my username and password for the National Rail Data Portal.)

One may wish to consider:

  • the proportion of stations that have step-free access, overall and by station operator
  • the proportion of stations that have toilets compared to the proportion of stations that have disabled toilets (“NKS toilets”, after the Radar National Key Scheme) or no information about disabled toilets
  • stations that have step free access and are staffed but don’t have train ramps available
  • stations with temporarily broken lifts, and when the data on the station was last updated
  • staffed stations which don’t offer staff assistance to disabled people
  • stations with car parks but no Blue Badge spaces and/or no suitable drop off point for disabled people
  • stations with contradictory information, such as stating both “Step-free access coverage: No part of station” and “Both platforms are fully accessible from the street

And whatever else you like, really.

If you would like me to update the spreadsheet, drop me a line.

Oct 212017

National Rail Enquiries, run by Rail Delivery Group (the body formerly known as ATOC), co-ordinate information about the facilities at each of Britain’s 2,563 railway stations. They store such information in an antediluvian and unresponsive database, named “Knowledgebase“. They publish this information on their website. They also make it available to train operating companies (TOCs) and third-party software developers for them to do similarly.

The accessibility of the station is recorded in this database. This includes data such as the station operator’s help line number, whether and when the station is staffed, whether there’s a hearing loop, etc.

This information is crucial for disabled people to plan their journeys. As such, station operators are legally obliged to keep this information up to date. This is specified in their license, and is regulated by the Office for Rail and Road:

Passenger Information

Train operators must provide up to date information about the accessibility of facilities and services at stations and on their trains on the National Rail Enquiries (NRE) website. This includes the NRE’s Station Journey Planner (‘Stations Made Easy‘), as well as the train operators’ own website. Train operators must provide up to date information about the accessibility of facilities and services at stations and on their trains on the National Rail Enquiries (NRE) website. This includes the NRE’s Station Journey Planner (‘Stations Made Easy‘), as well as the train operators’ own website.

(Yes, I know that says the same thing twice; so does the ORR’s website. Perhaps they were emphasising the point.)

All hunky-dory in theorybut not in practice. The problem is threefold.

    1. Station operators don’t make sure that accessibility information is correct, or that it is kept up to date.
    2. Staff find it difficult to update said information due to technical problems.
    3. There’s no clear definition about what the information in the database means anyway.

Step free access

Take, for example, the Knowledgebase field “Step Free Access Coverage”. This can have the values “wholeStation“, “partialStation“, “allPlatforms“, “noPartOfStation” or “unknown“.

To me, this is straightforward. It should say which bits of the station can be accessed without having to go up or down a step. However that’s not how many TOCs use this field. They use it as some approximate of “wheelchair friendliness“.

Some examples: In Northern’s Disabled People’s Protection Policy, the stations at Appleby, Burley Park, Cattal, Dent, Garsdale, Hexham, Knaresborough, Newcastle, Oxenholme, Ravenglass, Ribblehead, Skipton and Wakefield Kirkgate are all down as “Partial step-free access“; but I know it is possible to get to all parts of all these stations without going up or down a step. When I raised this with Northern, they said;

it may be the methodology used to categorise step free access that is the issue here. For example, if there is a ramp and it is over a certain level of steepness or if the step free route between platforms is over a certain length then it can result in a ‘Partial’ classification.

For Aviemore station, Scotrail say “<Coverage>noPartOfStation</Coverage>”. This is interpreted particularly starkly on their mobile website:

Screenshot of the Aviemore station information page on the Scotrail website

Screenshot of Aviemore station facilities page on the Scotrail website

I defy anybody to work out whether Aviemore station has step-free access based on that. Scotrail’s Assisted Travel team can’t. On September 25th after a long period on hold they said “I will have to find this out for you as it is not clear from the website” and offered to email me – but never did. When I rang again on 5th October, after another long period on hold they said “I was speaking with my supervisor and it doesn’t look like it is accessible on both sides.

It has since transpired that there is full wheelchair access to all parts of Aviemore station; all parts of the station are accessible without having to go up or down a single step. (Getting from platform to platform without steps involves a long walk by road so it’s generally best to make sure you get dropped off at the right entrance for the train you’re wanting to catch.) So why does it say “Step free access coverage: No part of station“? Scotrail’s Head of Access and Inclusion eventually told me:

Mr Paulley It says ‘No’ to Step-free coverage simply because one cannot access all platforms from one single entry point.

So that makes complete sense, then. Honest.

They have since said:

ScotRail is experiencing difficulties with updating the ‘Step-free access coverage’ section due to a technical issue with the NRE website, which is only allowing for ScotRail to tick ‘Yes/No’ for this field without the option to edit text. This is an issue that can only be addressed by Rail Delivery Group, which ScotRail has requested be addressed as quickly as possible.

The Definition of Step Free

I thought: enough’s enough; let’s find out what “Step Free Access Coverage” actually means. As Rail Delivery Group hosts Knowledgebase and its schema, I thought they would be able to tell me what that field means. So I asked them in a Freedom of Information” request (though they aren’t subject to the Freedom of Information Act):

Knowledgebase has a field for “step free access coverage”. Stations are variously listed as having “full”, “partial” or “no” step-free access.

Please provide me with the definitions and criteria for these descriptors.

For example, what does “step free” mean? Does it mean that there are literally no steps, such that a station can still be wheelchair inaccessible e.g. through narrow passageways or over-steep slopes? Or are these other factors (though not about steps) included when considering how to categorise stations in this respect?

Also: what does “full”, “partial” or “none” mean? Does “full” mean fully compliant with Part M(1) and the PRM-TSI(2), or does it mean there are no steps? I know of a station where level access is available to all parts of the station but the TOC has marked it as “partially” step free because it’s a very long way round from platform to platform (or a barrow crossing), yet another TOC has marked another station with similar access as “none”.

Please provide the “official” definitions of what this field and the options in it actually mean.

(1“Part M” is Part M of the Building Regulations, which detail e.g. angles of ramps that would comply with the accessibility requirements of such. 2“PRM-TSI” is the “Technical Standards for Interoperability: Persons with reduced mobility“, which is the European Union’s legislation specifying accessibility of railway infrastructure.)

Their response:

In answer to your question regarding the definitions of ‘step-free’ access to stations, this is defined by each TOC separately. So, as you point out, one TOC might state ‘full step-free access’ whereas another will state only ‘partially’ because of things like barrow crossings or physically long step-free routes. These station pages are also updated by individuals who may use variations in their terms used. In order for you to get a more accurate answer for each, my advice is to contact each TOC separately.

TL;DR: “station operators are free to interpret it in any way they like and make it up as they go along” and “if you want to know what Step Free means you’ll have to ask each station operator“.

There are 31 train operating companies in the UK, most of whom operate stations; and Network Rail operate some stations themselves. I wouldn’t mind betting that the accessibility information has been provided by over 50 different people, with over 50 different interpretations as to what precisely “step free access coverage” means.

The effect is discriminatory

The problem is this information is crucial. For me to be able to travel to or from a station, or to change at it, I have to know that I will be able to enter / exit / change there without having to go up and down steps.

The reason I was looking up Aviemore was because I am thinking of going on respite care to Badaguish. I don’t have a car and I don’t drive, so trains are best for me. Badaguish’s website says “Nearest train station: Aviemore, with taxis available to Badaguish”. But how was I supposed to know whether I can physically use Aviemore station? I couldn’t trust the accessibility information, which is self-contradictory in any case; and Scotrail’s help line uses the same information, leaving them similarly confused.

Any non-disabled person can have relative certainty that they can use any station in Britain. But only 20% of stations are fully accessible. The very least the industry could do is make sure that said access information is standardised, accurate and comprehensive. But they don’t.

Finding accurate and comprehensive information for a station is like trying to plait fog.

Disabled travelers suffer difficult and frustrating bookings as a result – or can’t even face trying to book in the first place.

Northern’s assistance booking

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Sep 022017
Northern's logo turned into a sad emoticon

Arriva Rail North’s logo (corrected)

Wheelchair users travelling by train are asked to book assistance for ramps etc. But disabled people frequently experience substantial difficulties when booking, caused by train operating companies’ failures in information and procedure. 

This is a recurring problem across all train operating companies, but Carillion – the company Arriva Rail North subcontracts to make such bookings – are the worst I’ve experienced. (And that’s saying something.)

Northern and Carillion

Northern Rail’s assisted travel booking and customer relations staff were all based in Leeds. When Arriva took over the franchise, they told them all to move to a Sheffield call centre, or leave. Understandably a lot left, and took their experience and expertise with them.

Carillion's logo

Carillion’s logo

Arriva Rail North advertised their new assistance booking line as being open 24 hours, 363 days a year. They outsourced this function to Carillion, a rail infrastructure maintenance company. Carillion had never dealt with assistance booking before. The results were predictable.

Yesterday evening is a case in point. I wanted to book assistance for two simple journeys: Skipton to Hexham changing Carlisle, and Hexham to York changing Newcastle. 

The telephone call took 1 hour 6 minutes. Even then the assistance wasn’t successfully booked.

Untrained, inexperienced staff with no backup

The reason for this is that the booking staff member had never taken a booking before. He had only worked in the organisation for two weeks. He had watched colleagues booking assistance and been given the script to use, then he had been put straight onto the assistance booking line. It seemed like he had never been trained how to take bookings, and certainly not formally trained.

I was his first ever assistance booking (God help him!) There was nobody else he could ask because he was on his own; there were no bosses or other assistance booking staff on shift. He was very nervous and made many mistakes (understandably). Talk about being thrown in at the deep end…

After the hour-plus attempting to book the assistance, he had to admit defeat, because he was unable to book the wheelchair space on Virgin Trains East Coast. He said he would get somebody else to sort the booking and email me this morning at 8am. (Unsurprisingly, I haven’t had that email.)

Northern’s Disabled People’s Protection Policy

Northern’s Disabled People’s Protection Policy (which has been approved by the Office of the Rail and Road and which Northern are thus legally obliged to comply with) says:

To book assistance please call our dedicated freephone number (also free to mobiles), 0800 138 5560. Lines are open 24 hours a day, every day that we are running.

We can book assistance for your whole rail journey, even where part of the journey is with other train operators.

That’s plainly not true, because they do not deliver on their promises.

Recurrent problems

Since Arriva took over the franchise, I’ve had the following problems.

  • A weekend of all calls to the line being cut off after the recorded introduction
  • Staff not being able to use Passenger Assist 
  • Staff not knowing how to use text relay
  • Staff booking alternative taxis for inaccessible stations, from firms tens of miles away who don’t know the area
  • Staff telling me to do a 100 mile round trip to get round a closed line, because the rail replacement bus they’d booked was inaccessible.
  • Staff refusing to book assistance unless I had first bought a ticket, making me pay more than I would be charged if I bought the ticket on the day (rail rovers etc.)
  • Staff telling me I would have to pay for the rail replacement taxi because their rail replacement bus was not wheelchair accessible
  • Staff unable to find out whether scheduled services hauled by Tornado had a wheelchair space
  • Staff being unable to book wheelchair spaces on connecting companies’ services
  • Staff telling me I had been banned from booking assistance because I have attempted to book wheelchair spaces on Northern’s services, whereas I have never done that. The staff member had misinterpreted an instruction to flag my assistance bookings for checking by a manager due to the number of erroneous bookings I had experienced.
  • Multiple other incidents.

I have brought this shabby and unacceptable treatment to the attention of senior managers in Northern a number of times, but it hasn’t improved – in fact yesterday’s abortive assistance booking demonstrates it is getting worse.


We can have no confidence that the booking has been made correctly, so we are left sweating throughout the journey – will the wheelchair space be booked by somebody else and unavailable? Will the person with ramps turn up or will we be unwillingly carried along until the terminus?
Non-disabled people can plan and book their journey in seconds or minutes, with relative confidence they can carry out their journey. Through the common contempt organisations like Northern demonstrate for services for disabled people, we are obliged to expend considerable time, energy and dogged determination to plan, book and carry out the same journey.

Aug 062017

I’m going on a trip up the Far North line to Orkney. As this is somewhat of a special trip, I decided to go First Class where possible (I booked 3 months in advance with split ticketing to make it affordable.)

As ever with the rail industry, my need for wheelchair access meant booking was not straightforward. I was given contradictory information from four different train operating companies, which resulted in multiple attempted and failed assistance bookings. I ended up buying multiple spurious tickets because different rail staff told me that there are / are not wheelchair spaces in First Class on the various legs.

In the end, the (very helpful) Transport Integration Manager at TransPennine Express sent an email round to his equivalents at Scotrail, VTEC, Northern and (later) RDG to attempt to sort out the horrible mess of broken assistance bookings and duplicate tickets.

Scotrail’s (then) Head of Access and Inclusion, responded with this extraordinary ad hominem attack.

Mr Paulley advised in all circumstances that he knew both ScotRail and VTEC had no first class for journeys he wanted to make including knowledge that ScotRail portion did not do seat reservation.

He pointed out that he had booked first class tickets on our website but I know he would have noticed that there is warning about first class wheelchair spaces.

We did another digging and found that he also send a Textphone request now saying he booked his tickets on Northern website.

I plan to go over the next telephone conversation as his request is that we pay him £7k for not meeting ORR requirements and he took information from approval letter of 2016 something baseless.


I’m not going to bore everybody by refuting each allegation, nor extemporise on the clearly unacceptable manner in which a senior member of Scotrail staff libelled me to senior managers in other train operating companies, but the “something baseless” extract from the Office of the Rail and Road, and the claim of a warning on Scotrail’s website, are worryingly and demonstrably inaccurate.

The Office of Rail and Road wrote to Scotrail in the May 2016 decision letter approving Scotrail’s Disabled People’s Protection Policy:

Following information received by ORR during the review of your DPPP, we also asked you to clarify how you ensure that passengers using a wheelchair are not able to buy a first class ticket which in practical terms they may not be able to make use of. This is due to restrictions in the accommodation meaning wheelchair users would need to be able to transfer to a seat. You have advised that you have now updated your DPPP passenger document and the accessible travel and first class ticket pages of your website to make this clear. You have also told us you will make the restriction clear when customers are going through the ticket booking process on your website, and that your staff are aware of the restriction when selling tickets in person.

You have also told us that you will correct the information on National Rail Enquiries that stated first class accommodation was available for wheelchair users, as this information is incorrect. Please inform us when the National Rail Enquiries site has been updated and when your online booking process has been changed. We would expect this to be completed within three months of the date of this letter, and will get in touch with you to ensure this work has been completed.

Clearly their website and their staff should have warned me that there aren’t any wheelchair spaces in First Class on Scotrail’s services.

I think this shows that Scotrail have as much contempt for wheelchair users, as they already demonstrated they hold for the ORR and for me personally.

Jun 182017

I fancied a trip so I thought I would try booking the above Sleeper. I’d read that whilst their old stock has no accessible sleeper accommodation, their new stock does, with an adapted cabin and shower. Their standard cabins are not accessible for wheelchair users, as the following from Matt and Vicki demonstrates

So I phoned Great Western Railway’s (GWR’s) assisted travel help line, to find out if the train I want to catch will have an accessible cabin. In the process, I discovered:

Locomotive-hauled rolling stock (Sleeper services)

There are no accessible berths.

Note: During the financial year 2015/16, the sleeper rolling stock is being refurbished which will include an upgrade of the existing accessible toilet in the seated accommodation and the provision of an accessible toilet and separate accessible cabin within the sleeper accommodation.

I recorded the phone conversation, and kept a transcript of the text direct call. It took 1 hour 22 minutes, and I still didn’t get told whether the service has an accessible cabin or not. They persisted in telling me that every cabin is wheelchair accessible nine times, even after I had convinced him to read GWR’s own leaflet that states it isn’t.

In the following transcript, my speech is in normal text, the relay operator’s is in italics, and GWR assistance department’s speech is in bold.

  • Note from relay assistant You are in a queue, do you wish to hold or try later?
  • Hold please
  • Pls wait… Holding… Holding… Holding… Holding… Holding… Holding… Holding… Holding… Holding… Holding… Holding… Holding… Holding… Holding… ringing…Explaining Text Relay, please wait…
  • Hello, it’s David from GWR Assisted Travel, how may I help?
  • Hello, please can you tell me if the sleeper tonight has a wheelchair accessible cabin on it and if so if it is still available?
  • OK, please hold the line, I need to check. I’ll be as quick as I can…
  • Note from relay assistant Holding… Holding…
  • Sorry to keep… I’ve checked, it will have a wheelchair bay but we can’t check for this evening as we don’t have enough time to arrange.
  • I am not interested in the wheelchair bay, I asked about the wheelchair accessible cabin. You have previously told me that you cannot tell until 8pm on the day of travel whether the train involved will be one of the refurbished ones with an accessible cabin on. So please find out if this one has an accessible cabin on it.
  • My apologies, I am not able to find that information. My manager has advised that we can’t find this out at this late stage.
  • Wait. Previously, your manager told me that they can’t find out until 8pm on the evening of departure. Now your manager is telling you that you can’t find out at 9pm. Are you saying that there is only an hour a day when you actually have this information, or what? In fact: put me through to your manager please.
  • Please hold the line one moment…
  • Note from relay assistant Holding… Holding… Holding… Holding… Holding… Holding… Holding… Holding… Holding…
  • Hello, thanks for holding. I’ve double checked with a manager and sales team, who have tried to book the chair accessible cabin for this evening, and confirmed it’s not possible for this evening, and my apologies.
  • I still want to speak to your manager please.
  • OK, I will check he’s free to take your call. Please hold.
  • You might want to tell him that if he doesn’t I am going to write a letter before action for disability discrimination counter to the Equality Act 2010 for failing to make a reasonable adjustment to a provision, criterion or practice that makes it unreasonably difficult for wheelchair users to use GWR’s service.
  • Note from relay assistant we are on hold, however I will read your comment when agent or manager returns.
  • OK.
  • Holding… Holding…
  • Hello, thanks for holding. My manager is not free right now as he needs to look into this and to confirm what you’ve been told previously. We will now need to call you back which will now be tomorrow, it can be arranged for a time convenient to you or before 12 noon tomorrow.
  • Don’t bother, I will jump straight to a letter before action under the Equality Act 2010 for failure to make a reasonable adjustment to a provision, criteria or policy that makes it unreasonably difficult for a disabled person to use GWR’s services. I have had enough of this ridiculous difficulty in booking the sleeper cabin, anybody would think that disabled people have only just been invented. I have been attempting to book this stupid cabin all blooming week. Right. Book me in tomorrow night.
  • OK, I’ll get a manager to call you back tomorrow evening and what time is convenient?
  • No, I specifically said I do not want a manager to phone me back. Do not call me back. No time is convenient. I do not want anybody to call me back. I shall simply start the legal procedure. in the meantime, do what I said – I’ve given you more than 24 hours notice now: book me in for the sleeper for tomorrow night.
  • OK, for booking a sleeper that will have to be done through our telesales team. I can transfer the call through so can take your…
  • Break. This is an assistance booking system. You are required under your licence with the ORR via the DPPP to book assistance and tickets in one go. So go ahead and book the assistance now. The wheelchair accessible cabin. Not the wheelchair space, the cabin. Go ahead and book it for tomorrow’s sleeper right now, don’t put me through to telesales.
  • To book the cabin it has to be purchased by our telesales team. I cannot do this myself.
  • I shall make sure that it is also in the legal letter, copied to the ORR, that you are not complying with your licence conditions to be able to book the wheelchair cabin directly with the assisted travel team. Meanwhile I shall purchase the cabin ticket online as we speak. Book the assistance now, please. Am I getting through, can I be any clearer? You are the assistance booking people. Book the assistance now.
  • Can I take your post code please?
  • [postcode redacted]
  • Thanks, and now your full name and first line of the address.
  • Doug Paulley, [address redacted]
  • That’s great. And now your journey details.
  • I am on the sleeper tomorrow. Paddington to Penzance.
  • That’s great, bear with me …
  • Firstly, please tell me whether the sleeper is one of the refurbished ones that actually has a wheelchair accessible cabin or not.
  • I’ll check all that ..please hold the line.
  • It’s been 30 minutes on this call so far, do you think you could just blooming do it?
  • Note from relay assistant I’m so sorry, we are on hold again.
  • Not your fault, and I am sorry for putting you through transcribing what must be quite a difficult and stressful call.
  • Not at all, and can I apologise for my speed as I have two damaged fingers after playing cricket.
  • ouch! I sympathise. no problem.
  • thanks…Holding… Holding… Holding… Holding… Holding… Holding… Holding… Holding… Holding… Holding… Holding… Holding… Holding… Holding… Holding… Holding… Holding…
  • Hello sir, thanks for holding. I have spoken to some people including our control team, and everything they have advised is telling me it will be wheelchair accessible.
  • OK, so please go ahead and book the accessible cabin. I will pay for the ticket online. and please book all the assistance.
  • OK, I’ll book the assistance now. What I have been advised, all of the cabins will be wheelchair accessible.
  • Ridiculous. Ridiculous. Look on your own website. The old sleeper stock had NO wheelchair accessible cabins. The new one has ONE accessible cabin on it. Even your own web site says that! If you book me a non-accessible cabin I will be absolutely incensed. Do not do that. Find out if there is an accessible cabin or not.
  • As I have been advised that all of the cabins are wheelchair accessible, I’m sure you understand I can only go off the information of what I have been advised of.
  • Look. There is no way on this earth that all the cabins are accessible. I am directly informing you that this is not the case. Your website says similar. Go off the information you are being advised by the GWR website, by the Disabled People’s Protection Policy, and by me. Your old stock sleepers have no accessible cabins. The renovated ones have one accessible cabin. This is most definitely the case, I have seen the plans, I have seen the videos even, I have read GWR’s DPPP, I have read it on your website. For once and for all: Old stock sleepers have no accessible cabins in them. New stock sleepers have one accessible cabin. Either tell me that it’s an old stock sleeper, or tell me it’s a new stock sleeper and book the accessible cabin. It’s not your fault you’ve been given duff information, but it’s not mine either and I will sue GWR for this.
  • As I have advised, I have been told that all of the cabins are wheelchair accessible, and I can only book assistance on and off the train and to a cabin, but I can not book a specific cabin as I have said that all cabins are wheelchair accessible.
  • All cabins are not wheelchair accessible. I feel like I’m banging my head against a brick wall here! You are supposed to be the assistance department and yet you think that all cabins on your sleeper are accessible! Whomever has told you that is fundamentally incorrect. How many times do I have to say it? Only one of the cabins is wheelchair accessible, and that is only on your new refurbished sleepers at that. Do not tell me again that all cabins are accessible as it is demonstrably not the case and you are winding me up even further. It is simply not true.
  • I apologise for this inconvenience and hassle, but I can only advise you what I have been told.
  • You must book the sleeper with the accessible cabin. how often do I have to repeat myself? Do it. If your bosses don’t know how to do it, then knock the managing director out of bed. Speak to a guard. Do whatever you need to do, but do not tell me that all cabins are accessible, because they aren’t. You clearly have never seen the sleeper yourself, nor the people you’ve spoken to, because it’s just ludicrous to claim that all the cabins are wheelchair accessible. Sort it out.
  • As I have advised, I can not book a specific cabin, I can only book assistance to a cabin, and the info I have been advised of that all cabins are wheelchair accessible. if you wish to purchase the tickets and the cabin, I will be happy to book you assistance, however i can not book a specific cabin.
  • Passenger Assist allows you to book a specific cabin, just as it allows any third party Train Operating Company or ticket agent to book a specific cabin, but in the meantime in any case you are the assisted travel department and I require you to inform me which coach and which cabin number is the assisted wheelchair accessible cabin. Do not tell me again that all the cabins are accessible, it is not the case.
  • The system will not allow me to book a specific cabin, and as I have told you, I have been advised that all the cabins are wheelchair accessible, and I am sorry this is not the information you have been told previously or found by other means.
  • The system will allow you to book a specific cabin, it is just that you don’t know how. I know the service specification of passenger assist inside out, just like I know your operator license, the obligations set by the office of the rail and road and the disabled person’s protection policy, and you have the ability to A) tell me which of the cabins is wheelchair accessible if there is one on the train, and B) to book it. Do so. Do not repeat yourself again, just do the job. If you can’t, knock somebody up who can. Do not come back to me and say “all I can do is go by what I’ve been told, all cabins are accessible”. Do not come back to me and say “the system doesn’t allow me to book specific cabins”. I know for a fact that both are incorrect. I have seen the sleeper with my own eyes, for Goodness’ sake! There is no way you can get a wheelchair in any cabin except the one adapted one on refurbished stock. Do not parrot the same thing back to me again: sort the problem.
  • I am sorry, however the system will not allow me to book a specific cabin. I cannot comment on any of your experiences with our system, however I have been shown how to book seats and under the same area it does not give me any options to book a specific cabin. I am so sorry that you feel that I am repeating myself, however I can only go off what I have been advised.
  • Can I break in please? OK. I am now quoting directly from GWR’s booklet “Making rail accessible: helping older customers and people with a disability”. Quote. “Locomotive-hauled rolling stock (Sleeper services) Mainline routes from London Paddington to Penzance. Designated Wheelchair Position: There is one wheelchair space with nearby seating for a companion in coach B. There are no accessible berths.” There is a note further on: “Note: During the financial year 2015/16, the sleeper rolling stock is being refurbished which will include an upgrade of the existing accessible toilet in the seated accommodation and the provision of an accessible toilet and separate accessible cabin within the sleeper accommodation.” So: how come you say that all cabins are accessible? Your old stock have no accessible berths at all. Your new stock has one, “a”, separate accessible cabin. One. Your own leaflet says so, in black and white, right in front of me. So whatever you have been told, by whomever, is demonstrably untrue and I require you to find out if the train tomorrow will have an accessible berth on it, or not. Do NOT come back to me and say that all the berths are accessible, or that you can only go off what you’ve been told. I am requiring you to find out for me, and not to accept what untrue information you have been provided. Clear?
  • I am sorry that you feel that the information that I have provided is untrue, however I am not aware of the leaflet you are reading and can only advise you of what I’ve been told. I am sorry, but all I can do is book you assistance on and off the train and to a cabin, as I have been advised that all cabins are wheelchair accessible. If you wish to escalate this further I will have to advise of either a manager’s call back, or you can submit a complaint in writing to either our Freepost address or our email address.
  • For Goodness’ sake. I will not be speaking to a manager or writing a complaint, it will go straight to legal. To be clear: you are David from the GWR assisted travel team. You are not aware of the leaflet “Making rail accessible: Helping older customers and people with a disability” which is held by GWR, is the key leaflet giving information on accessibility of GWR’s services and is half of the Disabled People’s Protection Policy, as mandated by the Office for Rail and Road within the Train Operating Company Licence, and is directly on the assisted travel page on your website. You have never read the leaflet that is about GWR’s accessible provision? And you are directly refusing to check that what you have been told is true? Even though I have given you incontrovertible evidence that it is most decidedly not the case that all of your sleeper berths are wheelchair accessible? Quoting your own leaflet on the subject? Why are you refusing to double-check? Are you that scared of your bosses? Because believe me, you will get it in the neck as will the rest of GWR when I issue for failure to make a reasonable adjustment under the Equality Act 2010.
  • I have now found the leaflet online, and I am looking at the section you refer to, and see what you are saying, however I have spoken with our control team who have advised that the service is wheelchair accessible. If you wish to take this through legal channels that will be your choice, and I cannot advise you to not do that, however as I have said I can only go off the information I have been told by our control team and managers.
  • Please go back to your control team and managers, quote what you have just read in that leaflet, and tell them that I want and need to know: A) Whether this is a refurbished train with an accessible cabin, and if so B) which coach and cabin number it is. Just to note that I have been on the call 73 minutes so far…
  • I understand, and I will raise what’s in the leaflet with our management and control team. However, they have advised it is, and all are wheelchair accessible.
  • Please go back to your control team and managers, quote what you have just read in that leaflet, and tell them that I want and need to know A) whether this is a refurbished train with an accessible cabin, and if so B) which coach and cabin number it is. What is it? Are you scared to phone them back? Have you been instructed not to bother them any more? Why is it that you are not challenging them?
  • Your call is being transferred to another relay assistant Reconnected to relay, pls wait…
  • So as I advised, I will raise this with our control team and our managers who will get this looked into, but I can only advise you of what they have told me, and that they have said all of the cabins are wheelchair accessible. I cannot tell you any other information than that. And as I have advised, if you would like to escalate this further, you will need to speak to one of our managers who can arrange a call back, or submit a complaint in writing, or alternatively you can go through your own channels if you wish.
  • I am phoning the assistance booking department. You are aware that your own literature states that there are no accessible berths on older stock and only one on newer stock. Yet you are not prepared to phone your managers and control team back to ask them to re-examine the situation. I still require the accurate information as to whether there is an accessible cabin on that train tomorrow night and if so which coach and cabin number it is. You have failed to explain why you are refusing to challenge your managers and the control team on what you have read and what you have heard from me, right now, in order to provide me with the information you are obliged to provide. Stop repeating that you can only tell me what you have been told, and find out the true information. Stop trying to tell me to write, or phone another time, or wait for a call back, or make a complaint, I want the information now, in this phone call. It is not an unreasonable request and you are just perpetuating the pain by making me carry on. Go back to your managers or the control team and find this information for me. By the way, I am of course recording both this phone call and the transcript.
  • OK, let me put you on hold for a few minutes please. Thank you.
  • 79 minutes!
  • Holding.
  • Hello Mr Paulley, I have spoken to our managers, and they have confirmed that this will be raised and it will also be raised with our control team. However, I am not willing to discuss this any further and I will have to terminate the call now. Thank you.
  • Other person has hung-up.

Non-wheelchair users can discover whether there’s a suitable berth for them and book it in seconds on the website or by phone…

Arriva Rail North’s antipathy to slopes

 Trains  Comments Off on Arriva Rail North’s antipathy to slopes
Mar 282017

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.



Mar 212017

Computer Says NoI want to visit my Dad at the People’s History Museum next Monday, so I phoned Transpennine Express’ assisted travel line to book tickets, the wheelchair space and assistance with ramps.

The call lasted two hours.

There are no advance tickets available. This immediately rang alarm bells: it is theoretically possible that all advance purchase tickets have already sold, but usually this is a sign that seat reservations on the train haven’t opened.

Inability to book a seat is a pain for Temporarily Able-Bodied people. But at least they can fight for any of the 179 seats on the train; or (less attractively) stand. Wheelchair users can only travel in one of the two wheelchair spaces. If there are already two wheelchair users on board, we can’t travel.

Being bumped onto a later train would be a major problem, because we have to book assistance and ramps to get on and off the train 24 hours in advance. If we change our schedule there’s no guarantee the message will get through or that staff will be available to assist us.

I quote below some of the ocean of fail I unleashed by daring to attempt to book that train:

Advisor: Outbound journey: no reservable seats on either of them journeys, so it would be down to the train crew to find you seat. Me: Northern rail is non-reservable I know, but I am surprised at the Transpennine from Leeds to Manchester Victoria being non-reservable. TP Express usually is.  Advisor: Yes, it’s saying not able to reserve any seats on that one.

Me: Okay. Well I’m not happy to travel without booking the wheelchair space. Please find out what is up and ask somebody to sort it? I know the wheelchair space isn’t reservable on Northern Rail but they are on TP Express. Advisor: Yes. It’s not letting us book it at all. No availability. It’s just showing no availability on our system. If you still want me to put the booking through, that would be down to you if you got there and the seats weren’t available.

Me: I want to know please whether it is a technical problem or if it is that both wheelchair spaces are already booked by other wheelchair users. Advisor: No not a technical problem, just cannot book any seats from Leeds to Manchester Victoria at all on our system. Me: No seats either? Not just the wheelchair space? Advisor: No, no seats at all, nothing.

TransPenninge Booking site showing "reservations available".

Yet the Transpennine Express website states: “Reservations available“.

This makes me suspect that reservations are supposed to be available but aren’t available because of a fault.

Me: Please get on to whomever can find out why that train isn’t reservable, find out why it’s not reservable, get them to sort the problem so I can book the wheelchair space. Advisor: There is no way we can make the journey become available for booking when its showing no availability. … Nobody at Transpennine Express will be able to book you a seat on that particular journey because they all got the same system as me. Me: Why is it unreservable? Why have Transpennine made it unreservable? Advisor: It’s just a non reservable service on that train. We cannot reserve any seats on it at all. Me: I know. Why is it unreservable? Why have Transpennine made all the seats on that train unreservable? What’s the problem? Advisor: Some journeys are just like that cannot reserve seats on them. That’s just the way the booking system is. Me: That doesn’t answer. Why is that train unreservable? What is the problem? Advisor: There is no answer for that im afraid. It’s just that some services are unreservable.

I was thinking perhaps if there aren’t wheelchair users on it, and it’s just unreservable because of a cock-up, I could either persuade them to sort it out or chance it on the day.

The “discussion” went on for some time, until she passed me to her manager. I repeatedly asked him whether the wheelchair spaces are unavailable because they had already been booked by other people.  However the manager refused point-blank, for “data protection” reasons.

Me: She said the whole train is non-reservable; that’s clearly a problem your end because your own website says that seats are reservable. I want to know for definite whether it’s non-reservable due to some technical problem or because somebody your end has made the whole train non-reservable or if it is because the spaces are already gone. Manager: Okay, so all I will confirm at this point is that no availability on that train. Me: why is the train non-reservable? is it definitely the case that the wheelchair spaces are already reserved by wheelchair users? Manager: There is no availability for us to reserve any seats. Me: Why is the train non-reservable? Is it definitely the case that the wheelchair spaces are already reserved by wheelchair users? It’s a perfectly reasonable question to ask. Manager: I cannot give you travel details of other passengers on that train unfortunately. Me: You can find out though whether the wheelchair spaces will already be occupied. I don’t want travel details of other passengers on the train, I just want to be certain that this isn’t just due to some technical or booking failure that has made the whole train non-reservable when in fact the wheelchair spaces are not engaged. Manager: The spaces currently have no availability. We cannot share the details of other customers who have booked those spaces.

Me: At no point have I asked you to share the details of other passengers’ journeys. I just want you to tell me categorically that the wheelchair spaces are already occupied for the journey I would like to do. Manager: That would be passing on info in respect of other customers travel arrangements, therefore I cannot give it you. Me: No it wouldn’t, it would be simply telling me whether the spaces are reserved or not. If I phone up a cinema and try to book a wheelchair space, they tell me, the wheelchair space is free, or somebody has already reserved it, or they tell me there’s a tech problem that means they can’t reserve it or there’s some maintenance issue or something. Asking whether a wheelchair space is reserved or not is not asking for details of other customers travel arrangements. I just want to know whether the wheelchair space is showing as unavailable because the whole train has been made non-reservable or some other such problem, or if it is because they are occupied for part or all of the journey I want to do. That is not sharing anything about other passenger’s journeys.

He still refused. Manager: As I said earlier, I cannot confirm anything about other customers’ bookings or reservations, this will be a breach of their confidentiality. And later: Manager: I cannot give you info from other customers.

Other juicy bits:

Me: I would like to speak to your manager please. You can do that, what you mean is you will not, you are refusing. Manager: I will arrange for a call back from manager, which is normal process, however as this is Typetalk service I would be unable to arrange that with you.

Me: Your advisor earlier said that the whole service is non-reservable, that she is unable to book any seats at all, not just the wheelchair space. Manager: The rest of the train is really irrelevant because all we are talking about here is wheelchair space, unless you want to book a normal seat.  Me: If the whole train is unreservable then it’s clearly something that is up your end with the bookings. Is the whole train unreservable for some reason?

He never answered that either, though to be fair he did state categorically that there were no technical or organisational reasons why he would be unable to book the wheelchair spaces. Here’s the whole transcript with the exception of certain identifying details. (NB: I’ve cleaned the text relay output a lot but it’s still pretty hideous and inaccessible I’m afraid.)

Sometimes I think being disabled should come with a full-time secretary, solicitor and a baseball bat. (For relieving tensions on a baseball – I don’t do physical violence.)

I shall ask the Information Commissioner to assess this… unusual interpretation of approach to data protection.

I have little confidence that everything will go right on Monday. I am dreading it. I shall take careful note of the booking status of the spaces…

ADDENDUM the following day

This morning:

This afternoon:

They’ve booked the wheelchair space. So the space evidently wasn’t booked by a wheelchair user and there evidently was a technical or organisational reason why they didn’t book it.

It gives the wheelchair space reservation, but still says “no seats reserverd”… still not confidence-inspiring.

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