Trains and wheelchair access

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.

  12. 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.
  13. 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?

8 Replies to “Trains and wheelchair access”

  1. Hi Doug
    I doubt you remember me from Leeds twenty years ago! I now have Trading Standards qualifications so if you ever need a hand with the suing or a strongly worded letter (although you seem to do pretty well on your own!), give me a yell.
    luv ‘n’ kisses

  2. I travelled yesterday and all did not go well.

    The excellent Blue Star staff met me at Leeds and assisted me onto the train to London. I settled down to write up some minutes on my laptop. It is a good thing that I had charged it, as the electric sockets on the carriage were not functional and the guard was unable to reset them due to a fault in the system. Then at Wakefield we were delayed by broken points; we had to wait for an engineer. The result was that we were late into Kings Cross. En route I was phoned by Kings Cross assistance staff, who met us with the ramp.

    Onto the Underground from Kings Cross to Liverpool Street. The maps on posters the tube train indicated that there was no disabled access to the surface at Liverpool Street, which was concerning. The step free access guide (dated May 2013) indicates a step between the Hammersmith and City train and the platform of 18.3 cm (7.2 inches). This caused me some apprehension! I discussed with my carer the best way of getting off the train. However on turning up at Liverpool Street, we discovered that there was no step; there was complete level access off the train. I had therefore been caused unneeded concern. The Step Free Access Guide was incorrect or out of date, AGAIN.

    However I also saw something I had previously not noticed. The step free access guide says that there is only step free access to/from the Eastbound platform at Liverpool Street, there’s no access to the Westbound! Nobody had warned me of this when booking my journey and assistance.

    What on Earth was I going to do on the return journey if the taxi took me to Liverpool Street? How was I going to get from Liverpool Street to Kings Cross? Would I have to catch an eastbound train and go all the way round the Circle Line, which would undoubtedly make me miss my train up north? Could I catch an eastbound train and cross a platform somewhere to a westbound one? The map doesn’t indicate where it is possible to change from an eastbound to a westbound train – presumably assuming that’s not somebody would want or need to do! This added a level of anticipatory concern throughout the day.

    Having since checked the Journey Planner, it suggests that I should catch the train from Liverpool Street to Stratford, then the Central Line to Mile End, then the Hammersmith and City Line to Kings Cross. This is a journey taking 50 minutes to go from Liverpool Street to King’s Cross, a journey that would take non-wheelchair-users 9 minutes.

    On arrival at Liverpool Street I found the information point and told them I had booked assistance to Enfield Lock, but my connecting train had gone. I had missed it due to delays on my previous train. They got a very helpful woman (L) who tried to help me out the best she possibly could. I would have to catch another train, half an hour later.

    The staff at the information point (with several computers and lots of paper records) were unable to find the telephone number for Enfield Lock to ask them to provide the ramp on the later train instead of the earlier one. So L went off to an office to find the telephone number. She attempted multiple times to phone the station. No matter how many times she tried, however, they did not answer the phone. She also contacted her control by radio to ask them to contact the station. They were also unable to do so.

    She had a quandary. She did not want to assist me onto the train without knowing that I would be able to get off at my destination. There was no guard and no ramp on the train, and she couldn’t get in touch with staff at the destination to tell them I was on a later train than booked. But I had to catch the train, or I would miss the funeral. I said that I would catch the train no matter what, and chuck myself off the train in my wheelchair if necessary. She was unable to tell me how much of a step or gap was involved at the destination.

    She put me on the train at the very front carriage, directly behind the driver, and told the driver of the situation. He very kindly agreed to keep an eye out for me at the destination station. She also got in touch with an intermediate station (Tottenham Hale) who said they could take me off the train and put me in a taxi. I refused this as I didn’t want the extra complication this would entail.

    I travelled on the train to the destination station, half an hour late due to my missed connection and with no idea whatsoever whether there would be anybody there to meet me with a ramp, or what the gap / step between the train and the platform would be. This caused additional stress, as I’m sure you can imagine.

    When I got to the destination station, to my relief the station staff were ready with a ramp. He commented to me that he had been ready for me at the train that arrived half an hour earlier, in accordance with the assistance booking email. I got the impression he was blaming me for this. I simply explained that the previous train was late and I had missed my connection.

    I then had to route-march to the funeral at full speed to get there in time. As noted above, the nearest station to the crematorium was totally inaccessible so we had to get off at Enfield Lock, 1.3 miles away. We arrived at the crematorium in a sweat and in a stress, which wasn’t great, just in time.
    It is a good job I had allowed an extra 90 minutes “slack” in the journey to allow for this sort of problem!

    I had my phone switched off during the funeral. When I switched it back on, there was an answerphone message from the manager at Turkey Street station. He explained that there had not as yet been a taxi booked for the return part of the journey. He needed to know what type of taxi I needed and what time I wanted it for. Despite being embarrassed at using my mobile during a family wake, I phoned him back and confirmed the time. He then phoned me again to tell me that it would have to be a minibus taxi.

    After the wake, I went to Turkey Street to meet the taxi, as arranged. I explored what I could of the station and confirmed that there is most definitely no wheelchair access to the platforms, despite the claims to the contrary on the National Rail Enquiries website.

    When the taxi arrived it was an estate car. I had to transfer into the car. My PA and the driver (very friendly and helpful) had to put my wheelchair in the boot area; difficult as it doesn’t fold! The driver agreed to take me to Kings Cross, at an extra cost to me. He explained that we were lucky to get him. The taxi firm, having been booked at the last minute, struggled to find a driver and suitable car. Other drivers would not have agreed to alter the journey to go to Kings Cross.

    We got to Kings Cross just in time. We would not have done if the taxi had insisted on taking us to Liverpool Street.

    At Kings Cross we had difficulty finding the booked assistance. Staff at the Information Desk were unable to raise the lady assigned to assist me, as she wasn’t answering the radio. One of the information desk staff accompanied me to the gate, where he spotted the lady. She explained that nobody had told her she had a “booked job”. She then assisted me onto the train.

    The train home was delayed due to a broken down train further up the track. We eventually got home at 11pm.

    This made for a very long, exhausting day of 14 solid hours, most of it travelling. It is very clear to me that much of the stress, uncertainty and pfaf was ADDED as a result of communication, information and physical access problems as a result of the various companies’ failure to make reasonable adjustments for me as a wheelchair user.

    I shall therefore be issuing in court against all the companies involved, unless they make major changes AND compensate me appropriately.

  3. I had a phone call from Greater Anglian on Sunday, confirming that they had booked the taxi to take me from Turkey Street into Liverpool Street after the funeral.

    I had initially asked if, given all the inconvenience, the taxi could take me direct to Kings Cross for the train back North, and thus avoid me having to use the underground between Liverpool Street and Kings Cross. Given the taxi is taking me into the centre anyway, this would seem eminently suitable. They said no, but to ask the driver if he would be prepared to alter the journey once I’m in the taxi.

    I asked if I could have details of the taxi company etc. for the day, in case of any problems. But the person who phoned me doesn’t have the details, she didn’t make the taxi booking and so has no idea who the taxi company is or who to contact in the event of any problems.

    So I have to turn up at the station on the day, look out for a random taxi that’s booked for me, hoping there’s no problems so I can make my booked train up North. It feels a little tenuous and stressy.

  4. I phoned just now as I hadn’t heard back about the taxi. The gentleman I spoke to said that the notes on the screen suggested that the taxi was sorted, but I wasn’t satisfied with that. The very helpful woman I spoke to yesterday (I shall call her F) was on a call but rang back when she was free. As yet she has been unable to get hold of the person who books rail replacement taxis for Greater Anglia but she is persevering and will keep me informed.

  5. Update:
    The lady said yesterday that Greater Anglican would phone me back yesterday evening or this morning with my confirmation of taxi details. I haven’t heard anything of course. So I shall have to phone them again.

    Oh and whilst I’ve received email confirmations of the assistance booking, I’ve yet to receive an email with the ticket collection reference as promised. I’m glad I insisted on being given that on the phone.

    For goodness’ sake.

    • This whole business is appalling! At least some of the staff involved were helpful and did their best to get you through despite the crappy system. (I like ‘Greater Anglican’ by the way – I didn’t know the Church of England had successfully applied for a rail franchise!)

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