MP praises scheme to provide more disabled access to rail network

June 22, 2009 at 1:05 pm Leave a comment

trains

An MP has proposed a series of measures that would give people with disabilities greater access to the country’s train network.

Martin Linton secured an adjournment debate on access to rail services on Friday.

“Most of the railways were built at a time when it was assumed that if somebody had a disability, they would be excluded from the railway system for ever; that was considered to be inevitable,” he said.

“Nowadays, however, we do not consider it to be inevitable.

“On the contrary, we consider it to be something we should fight against. Now is the time to establish these standards, therefore.

“They will probably have to be the same across Europe, but that should not be seen as an argument against trying. ”

Mr Linton praised the government’s access for all scheme, which is providing lifts for more than 100 stations.

“A large a section of the community among the population are able to access station platforms only once a lift has been built—most obviously, people in wheelchairs, but also those with emphysema, heart complaints or just very elderly people,” he said.

“There are also those for whom access may not be impossible, but it is certainly difficult, especially without assistance—the parents of young children in prams or buggies, people with heavy luggage or lots of shopping, people carrying bicycles and so forth.”

Mr Linton then presented a “shopping list” of further changes that would widen access to the rail network.

“There are various problems with the trains themselves, particularly for the partially sighted,” he said.

“There may be priority seating, but locating it can be a problem for them. Also, the aisles are often too narrow to give access for wheelchairs.

“It is also very important to make full use of audible, as well as visual, information systems and to use contrasting colours, because many partially sighted people can distinguish those and that is their only chance of being able to find their way around without assistance inside a train.

“The following may sound like obvious points, but they are clearly important to people with visual impairment.

“If there is no audible facility on a touch-screen they cannot be used by visually impaired people—such screens could easily be adapted in that way.

“The text size is often not sufficiently large for partially sighted people to read, so the screens need to be adapted to increase the text size in places where that has not already been done.

“Most importantly of all, disability training should be provided.

“There is no doubt that a lot of training is required in order for people to know how to handle the problems of disabled passengers, and it is very important that the person who is on duty in the station is aware of these issues.”

Chris Mole, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, responded for the government.

“The provision of an accessible public transport system in which disabled people can have the same opportunities to travel as other members of society is a key plank in our policy to improve the life chances of disabled people and to promote social inclusion,” he told the House.

“We are fully aware that, without accessible transport, disabled people are limited in their ability to access work, visit friends and family, participate in leisure activities or access health care and education facilities.

“As my hon. Friend acknowledges, that is why we have taken strong action to ensure that public transport services are increasingly accessible to the estimated 11 million disabled people who live in Great Britain.

“I believe that our record in this area speaks for itself.

“We have introduced regulations, the Rail Vehicle Accessibility Regulations 1998—more commonly known as the RVAR—which ensured that all new rail vehicles introduced since 31 December 1998 had to be accessible.

“The RVAR considerably improve accessibility by specifying features such as larger and easier access to priority seats for disabled passengers; use of tonal contrast in liveries and finishes; a minimum number of spaces for wheelchair users; boarding devices to facilitate wheelchair access; provision of handrails and handholds; and provision of audible and visual passenger information.

“Almost 5,000 accessible rail vehicles are already in service and all rail vehicles must be accessible by no later than 1 January 2020.

“That end date dovetails with similar provisions in place for buses and coaches, ensuring an accessible transport chain and giving disabled people certainty that they will be able to access all public transport vehicles in future.”

Mr Mole said the access for all programme is rolling out across the network, with accessible routes already installed at 25 stations and a further 11 in progress. By the end of the current financial year 40 stations will be completed.

“In addition, the small schemes programme is now providing almost £25 million of match funding towards investment of almost £100 million in total, supporting improvements that meet local needs at over 1,000 stations by spring 2010,” he said.

“Bids for further works to be completed in 2010-11 have also just been invited.

“Barriers such as lack of confidence, poor travel information and the attitudes of staff all affect disabled people’s ability to use public transport.

“I should just mention the staff disability awareness training DVD, which was funded through the access for all small schemes fund.

“I hope that that will address some of the concerns that my hon. Friend raised.”

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