Scotrail’s 1st Class “wheelchair spaces” & attack on me

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.

7 Replies to “Scotrail’s 1st Class “wheelchair spaces” & attack on me”

  1. Well done Charlie (TPE) perhaps you might also kick your colleagues (MY) at First GW who have just developed a system that connects their available reservations with a phone app (and the call centres &c) to deliver a facility to check for and book cycle (and presumably seat) reservations on a train right up to the moment it rolls in to the platform. I was expecting a call for a meeting last week, to discuss the beta testing.

    I mention this because there would seem to be no reason that this same facility could be applied to the seat ‘number’ allocated to the wheelchair space, and thus a wheelchair user could check and reserve the space on the train on the day of travel, with perhaps a pragmatic detail of Scotrail making sure there is a clear listing (& on-line facility) to identify stations where a staff presence (dispatchers, floor walkers etc) covering the times when an on-spec traveller might need an arm or sensory assistance, or a ramp to get on or off a train. With the development of twitter coverage it may equally make sense for the social media teams to have a basic protocol for a concerned traveller with a mobility limitation to send a hastag format – perhaps #Assistance #Guide (or #Ramp or whatever the need might be) #Station (perhaps the 3 letter code? especially for those who might find extensive typing a problem) #TrainID #Carriage (optional).

    I find that many of the social media teams have come on impressively in the way they can provide assurance to a concerned passenger (and even supply fresh toilet paper when you finish and find its run out!). Let’s keep building on this.

    PS I had an operation on both feet back in 1986, when there were hardly any wheelchair spaces on trains, yet my work involved a lot of moving around, and this was tiring and most impractical for using crutches (both feet remember), so I travelled Edinburgh-Glasgow frequently. No ramps, no one to get you and the chair on/off the train, far fewer dropped kerbs. Guys it was an education, but by the time the bones had set I could manage the 1:12 ramp from platform level to Waverley Bridge without having to stop for recovery on the way up. But those basic NHS/Red Cross wheelchairs leave a lot to be desired.

    • Cheers. Yes agree with you. The only thing is when some companies implemented the ability for wheelchair spaces to be booked direct online, a number of non-disabled people booked the spaces for their luggage and legroom, making them unavailable for wheelchair users. As ever, the selfishness of the few… I think it shouldn’t be beyond the ability of systems designers to enable a permissions-based system for confirmed wheelchair users to book spaces direct, but then it is the railway we’re talking about here and the systems are huge, unwieldy and immutable. I know it’s VTEC’s intent to make this possible, however.

  2. Hi Doug, Some years ago I became aware that Scotrail did not offer First Class travel when I tried to book FC tickets for my (now ex) wife and myself from Stirling to Aberdeen and was told that they “now only have one class on our trains.” I have no real problem with that as it tends to smack of ‘elitism’ – although I do think that for mainline Inter-City services it is somewhat more acceptable. Your blog entry highlights a serious lack of adequate staff training; a lack of flexibility with ticketing between train operating companies and most importantly the need for far greater investment in disability awareness training. Having a truly ‘one stop’ system providing accurate information, and the ability to make your booking for you, taking into account the cheapest fares, arranging assistance, in short, making travelling by rail as simple and as enjoyable and hassle-free as possible.

      • When are you heading north Doug? Hope you have a really great time, and remember if it rains, you don’t go to Scotland for the weather, you go for the whisky which needs the water from the rain…….

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