There’s a clear route to accessible rail

Stephen Brookes MBE

Stephen Brookes MBE is the Disability Champion for Rail Sector at the Department for Work and Pensions and Cabinet Office Disability Unit. He tells us about his travel experience and what changes need to happen to make transport more accessible.

Everybody in the rail industry says they are trying to do their bit, but nobody's talking to each other at times.

Stephen Brookes MBE

We need to make known the barriers that people face when travelling by rail. Given the current rate of change, we are several decades away from any real improvement. I get very, very concerned when accessibility gets thrown into the air, especially when there is a clear route to accessible rail.

We need to work together

It is essential everyone works together on accessibility. The Rail Delivery Group and Network Rail should be working more closely with charities. The Rail Safety and Standards Board and Department for Transport should link in too.

Disabled people must steer this, and any consultation needs to be pan-disability. Only then we can have a real strategic approach and target government funding in the right way. So rail companies need to start linking up. This is evident when you look at rail assistance policies.

My own experience using trains

Take my own personal experience. Because of my spine injuries and my arthritis, I can't carry luggage. My wife also has arthritis problems, so we travel light and need assistance. This is tricky when one journey involves several rail companies.

Say we book a journey from Blackpool to Cornwall. This means we're travelling with four different rail companies, but I don't want to research the various accessibility policy intricacies of each company. I want that journey to begin when I get on the train and end when I get off in Cornwall. I don't want to get to halfway through the trip and find out two rail companies have different policies. A minor difference is significant enough to make the journey difficult. Everybody in the rail industry says they are trying to do their bit, but nobody's talking to each other at times.

Disabled people need to be able to travel too

I also want to see consistent staff training across the network. I would love this to cover respect, empathy and an "ask and listen" culture. The rail industry is still not good at that in any way, shape or form. There are members of staff who think disabled people can choose whether to use a train. That isn't the case.

There's no reason to assume a disabled person has access to a car. We don't choose to travel. We need to travel. When using the train, disabled people and the families that travel with them are paying for a service. It is not a given assumption that we get a travel concession. Without us, the future for the rail industry could look quite bleak. Non-disabled commuters are going to be very, very slow at coming back into the frame.

We need less consulting and more doing

I would say rail companies need to stop consulting and start doing. Consultations bombard disabled rail users. I'm talking as a disabled rail user myself here. I don't want to have another raft of at least five consultations per week. I want to see action now. I want to see all disabilities taken into account. The Department for Transport has at least four different consultations at the moment. Is everybody going to get on the same page when they look at the results of them all?

Finally, we need to make sure we don't keep getting the same consultation in a different wrapping. We need to get a sense of what is important. Then we can plan what to do and do it on a one‑off collective basis.

I can't see why we can't do that.