Many here will know that I am a train fan, also that I’m a wheelchair user, and sometimes the two don’t mix. I have a family funeral at Enfield Crematorium in a couple of weeks, so I needed to book train travel. I thought I would list what happened as I tried to book train travel this afternoon.
I have had confidence issues with public transport for the last year, just starting to use trains again. I’m sure you can understand that I needed this to go as smoothly as possible.
- I looked up train times yesterday (preparatory to booking a carer.) If I was non-disabled it would be simple: train from Leeds to London, underground to Seven Sisters, train to Turkey Street, which is right next to the crematorium. All done online, no problem – information, tickets booking, everything.
- I’ve done Leeds to London many times, so I know that is accessible (when the assistance turns up). But I don’t know about Sevenoaks or Turkey Street. So I went on the National Rail Enquiries website to see station facilities for Turkey Street. My heart lifted:
But what’s this either side of it?!
This station says it has step-free access. But what does “Step Free Access note: no” mean? And this station truly has no ramps?! That makes no sense. Sigh. I would obviously have to check that out.
- Next step: what about Seven Sisters station? I checked the step-free access guide – bummer. No access. So what to do? I used the TFL Journey Planner specifying step free access. I don’t trust the buses in London having previously had journeys take longer than they should have, so I unticked that option too. It told me to catch the underground from Kings Cross to Liverpool Street and change there. Good.
- Onto the phone (which I hate.) As my first train will be operated by East Coast, I phoned their assisted travel line. Having got through their “Press X” and “Press Y” phone system and queue, I told the assisted travel operator I want tickets and assistance for a journey. She explained if I want both together, that’s from a different department which is short-staffed, but that she would try to put me through. I was on hold for a while, then I spoke to a man. I explained my journey and asked if Turkey Street is accessible? He too was confused. He said the various information available to him was contradictory. He suggested booking the tickets and assistance then phoning Greater Anglia who own Turkey Street station. I thought this wasn’t very helpful and suggested instead that I should book the whole thing through Greater Anglia. He agreed and supplied their phone number.
- I phoned Greater Anglia assisted travel. After a long period on hold, I spoke to a very helpful woman. I enquired about Turkey Street Station’s wheelchair access. Much consternation; she looked it up on the National Rail Enquiries website, which said it is fully accessible, but also consulted a map of the station, which shows access only via steps! She was at somewhat of a loss. She noted the station is only manned until lunchtime, and asked if she could arrange for herself or a colleague to phone back tomorrow when it was open, to confirm? I explained that this wasn’t appropriate as I need to make firm bookings for carers, transport this end and so on, for a family funeral. She said she would phone customer relations and get back to me.
- She phoned back quickly. She confirmed for definite that Turkey Street is definitely not accessible for wheelchair users. She said that the information on the National Rail Enquiries website is incorrect; that she doesn’t know why, but that this information is maintained by a different company.
- She said that the only option for travel is that the company will book a taxi from the nearest accessible station. I asked which is the nearest accessible station? This information, of course, should be on the National Rail Enquiries website – but it isn’t; and even if it was, I don’t think I could be trust it.
- Herein a problem. We were both reduced to consulting maps, looking up individual stations on the National Rail Enquiries website etc. because it transpires that Greater Anglia (who run trains solely in East Anglia and from there to London) have situated their assisted travel service in Scotland. With the best will in the world, therefore, her local knowledge is limited.
- I noticed the National Rail Enquiries website indicated that Enfield Lock station (half a mile from the crematorium) is accessible. She checked on her map of the station – and joy of joys, yes it is! There’s a level crossing enabling level access to both platforms. Problem solved – or so I thought.
- She raised another problem. Enfield Lock station is only manned (as National Rail call it) until lunchtime. So there will be nobody available to put down a ramp for me to get on the train for my return jouney. Surely not a problem, said I in all innocence, the guard can put down the train’s ramps. Not so. She went off to consult a list, and came back to tell me that – like many of their services – this train does not carry ramps.
- This is utterly extraordinary. I’ve never heard of this before. I’ve had all sorts of problems on trains:
- being left on a train that wasn’t fully in the platform so that “my” door wasn’t next to the platform and couldn’t be opened (and unlike people who can walk I couldn’t get up the train to another door!)
- being put in the guards van (don’t RIP Connex South Eastern!) or stuck in vestuble areas as doorways were too narrow for me to get through
- the wheelchair space being occupied by prams, pushchairs, luggage and even on one memorable occasion a jazz band
- many instances of booked assistance not turning up
But trains not carrying wheelchair ramps? That’s a new one on me. Utterly unacceptable.
- By now I was losing the will to live. To give her her due, this (very pleasant, diligent and helpful) woman wasn’t for giving up. She worked something out. For the outward journey, she would sell me a ticket to Enfield Lock and arrange all necessary assistance (except with the London Underground connections, I have to book that separately of course.) For the return, she would sell me a ticket from inaccessible Turkey Street station.. The railway company will then be obliged to supply a taxi from that station into London to enable me to catch the Leeds train. She will confirm this today or tomorrow, as the assistance department doesn’t have permission to book taxis – this has to be given elsewhere in the company.
- This indefatigable woman then booked my assistance and tickets with me, took the money and gave me all the relevant details and reference numbers. She was briefly foiled by their address system which refused to accept the length of my home’s name, but I suggested a way round that. I insisted she gave me the reference numbers; she said that the ticket collection reference should be emailed to me, but I didn’t want to risk it not coming through. (I’m glad I did insist as the number didn’t come through on email. Lol.) So now I just have to wait for the phone call confirming the taxi booking. Also, of course, to phone and book assistance on the Underground.
All in all, that was two hours on the phone. On top of that, I have done lots of looking up trains on the Internet, checking of individual station facilities, working out accessible tube travel etc. etc. On top of which, I have to arrange a one to one carer (my usual one being unavailable that day), book wheelchair accessible transport from Leeds to my home etc.
I had gone to bed this afternoon, feeling ill after a bad night, and intended on going to the theatre with friends this evening. However I was awake all afternoon dealing with this, and now I don’t feel well enough for the theatre. I have had to stand my friends up. In the process, I’ve also got blooming frustrated!
Now any non-disabled person in a similar situation could have gone on the first website, looked up train times and booked the trains all in one go in perhaps 10 minutes flat. Just because I am a wheelchair user (actually, just because the various train companies aren’t geared up for wheelchair users!) that process took me hours.
It could have been worse. Imagine what would happen if I had (quite understandably taken the National Rail Enquiry website at face value and assumed the nearest station actually is accessible? I would have just booked the tickets and assistance to the inaccessible station, then on the day I’d have turned up at the destination, unable to get off, and probably missed the funeral!
Is this equality?