Why I dread using trains

Hannah Rose

Hannah is disabled and uses a powerchair. She tells us about her experience of using trains and why having to pre-book assistance and having to manoeuvre her powerchair into a wheelchair space can make travelling by train so stressful.

I feel under pressure to board very quickly as they don’t stop for long at each station and everyone is rushing.

Campaigner Hannah on a train platform

I dread getting on a train more than I do a plane. I went to Italy recently and honestly, that whole trip felt easier than taking a rail journey in my local area. 

My nearest station has no step-free access. If it did, I could use trains to see friends, visit shops and do my volunteering work. None of this is possible and it’s not just a local issue.

When I have wanted to travel elsewhere, I’ve encountered inaccessible stations all over the country, making many trips a no-go. This issue has seen me turn down invitations to socialise with my friends and pass up opportunities to do public speaking at events. My life would be very different if I could use the train a lot more often.

I have to plan all my journeys

On the occasions where all stations I have needed to use are accessible, I have to pre-book assistance. This removes all spontaneity when making a journey. It’s such a shame that you can’t wake up and decide on the day: ‘oh I fancy going shopping in Liverpool’. 

I also have to check what the train type is, because you can’t get on any old carriage with an electric wheelchair. Even when the right type of train arrives, I feel under pressure to board very quickly as they don’t stop for long at each station and everyone is rushing. The same goes for leaving the train. I find the ramps very steep as well!

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Allocated wheelchair spaces on trains are very small

The next big dilemma is space on the train. It’s really stressful driving into the carriage. Even though there are allocated wheelchair spaces, they are very small, even in first class. 

My electric wheelchair, with my ventilator on the back, means, like many powerchair users, I need quite a wide space. People ask me why I don’t just use my manual wheelchair, which is much smaller.

My issue is that my manual chair means I don’t have the usual freedom that my electric wheelchair gives me, especially when I arrive at my destination and want to get about. The trains are making me choose between facing a hassle manoeuvring my powerchair onto carriages or losing my independence by leaving it at home. 

Trains are not working for anyone

As a result, I start to become anxious if I know I’ll have to travel by train. It goes without saying that I don’t have any plans to travel over the festive period. I worry about it being busy and, even at the best of times, I find rail travel in England stressful.

Often the bits about rail travel I find hard — steps, quick station stops and lack of space — are things people struggle with too. People with different disabilities to me, like people who are visually impaired, people who are older and less mobile, or people travelling with a pushchair or young kids, I doubt find it easy. The stations and trains probably aren’t working for a lot of people right now.

It strikes me that so many aspects of day to day life are becoming more accessible, but train stations are not keeping pace. I’ve already mentioned how much easier I found flying, but even something like just going to the shops, is becoming easier. When it comes to train travel, I think that changes should have been made years ago.

Accessible travel resources