Settle and Carlisle charter accessibility

I went on the new charter service yesterday. I had an excellent time.

A fast bald bloke is sitting, grinning, on a train, next to a window. He's a wheelchair user
Me, sitting in the wheelchair space, holding some gin

Finding out whether I would be able to travel was very difficult because information on its accessibility (to wheelchair users or other disabled people) wasn’t published anywhere (at the time). It’s still far from complete now.

The service is actually run by Locomotive Services TOC Ltd. Their Accessible Travel Policy isn’t entirely accurate about this train either. So I thought I’d help out.

We can accept foldable wheelchairs and have a ramp so that passengers can board. We also have one dedicated wheelchair space aboard per train which is availble for both standard and electric wheelchairs. However as the stations we serve are run by Northern Railway we can’t accept mobility scooters aboard the train or at stations. For disabled access please email in advance before booking your ticket.

The current website accessibility text

That’s not the full story.

Carriage D, with the wheelchair space (at the south end of the train yesterday) was once a standard first class coach without a wheelchair space. They made a wheelchair space in the cartage by removing a chair and table.

That means the carriage doorway has a very narrow opening. My wheelchair is about 68cm wide. I had to remove one rear wheel and handrim to fit through the doorway. I reckon the doorway is less than 60cm wide. Given that the UK standard for railway carriage wheelchair access is to accept a 70cm width wheelchair, this is a significant restriction – most wheelchairs won’t fit through.

There’s no disabled toilet on board. The toilet is very inaccessible and impossible to even attempt to enter in a wheelchair. Whilst the journey is supposed to last 1hr 10mins ish, the train can be delayed, as it was yesterday, thus taking 1hr 30mins with no access to the loo. Skipton and Appleby stations have good disabled toilets available and open – I don’t know about Appleby.

There’s no table available in the wheelchair space. So I had to juggle the gin!

The coaches were recently retired from standard usage on the mainline, on Anglian railways, and had been recently refitted. So the lighting is very good, the announcements were loud and clear (RASTI levels good), the upkeep is excellent, the suspension butter smooth, and in general the whole thing is in good nick.

The stations are managed by Northern, so the charter company told me to book assistance with Northern passenger assistance. But the trains, as charter trains, aren’t in the national rail timetable, and Northern’s assisted travel people were utterly flummoxed by this. They couldn’t get their head round it, their systems didn’t allow them to book assistance on a train that didn’t appear to exist, and in the end they gave up.

Happily, the charter staff e.g. the guard were excellent, very friendly, efficient and knowledgeable. The Northern staff at Skipton and Appleby were very helpful and competent (they always are, in my experience.) So there’s no problem. I would recommend turning up a little early to arrange assistance if you don’t book in advance.

So this service clearly isn’t fully accessible to wheelchair users; many will find it impossible to enter. And the “official” access information about it is limited and inaccurate. But if you can access it, it’s an excellent trip.

(A steam train I saw whilst at Appleby)