Train companies to miss accessibility deadline

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About 800 train carriages on Britain’s railways fail to meet accessibility standards coming into force next year, according to the government.

At least eight rail companies are seeking permission from the Department for Transport (DfT) to continue running non-compliant trains from 1 January.

Some have blamed delays in the arrival of new or refurbished rolling stock.

It they fail to reach an agreement with the DfT then trains will be taken out of use, resulting in services being cancelled.

Legislation for accessibility of mainline trains dates back to 1998, with the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 stating that all trains must be accessible by 1 January 2020.

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Paralympian Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson told the PA news agency she is “bored of being told I need to be patient” over the issue.

“They needed to start doing this 20 years ago,” she said. “Let’s see some action.”

Grey-Thompson, one of the UK’s most successful disabled athletes, takes about 160 train journeys each year.

She said wheelchair users are often left unable to get on or off trains because a member of staff with a ramp has not arrived, despite assistance being booked.

“We just want the same miserable experience of commuting as everyone else,” she joked.

Ceri Smith, policy and campaigns manager at disability equality charity Scope, commented: “Disabled people have been waiting decades for changes to happen.”

The latest standards include features such as:

– Audio-visual information systems.
– Easy to use handholds and handrails.
– An accessible toilet, if toilets are fitted.

The DfT said about 800 carriages out of a fleet of 14,000 do not comply with the latest accessibility rules.

Northern and Transport for Wales (TfW) have confirmed they will continue using Pacer trains next year, despite a pledge to remove them by the end of 2019.

Most Pacers do not comply with modern accessibility standards, which include provision for passengers using wheelchairs.

Northern blamed a delay in the arrival of new trains being built by Spanish manufacturer CAF, while there has also been a hold up in TfW receiving trains refurbished by rolling stock company Porterbrook.

Other operators that have asked the DfT for a dispensation for some of their trains include ScotRail, East Midlands Railway, Great Western Railway, South Western Railway, West Midlands Trains and London Overground.

Dominic Lund-Conlon, head of accessibility and inclusion at industry body the Rail Delivery Group, said taxis will be provided in some cases where a train does not meet the needs of passengers.

He noted that 7,000 new carriages are being rolled out by train companies, but accepted there is “more to do” to ensure rail travel is available to as many people as possible.

“Our aim is to get people where they want to be, safely, with dignity and in comfort,” he added.

Rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris revealed he is “really cross” about the 1 January deadline being missed.

Speaking earlier this week, he said: “I mention this in every meeting I have with train operating companies.

“They’ve had plenty of time to get ready and I’m very disappointed we’re going to have some operators requesting time-limited dispensations.”

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