I spent a lot my childhood traveling across the country on trains. As a teenager, I used to spend time just going round the circle line (when it was still a circle!). Now that I drive, I tend to use the car even for long journeys. But train travel doesn’t have to be totally off limits if you have a disability.
Now I’m not going to say it’s easy! Rail companies could do a lot more to make travelling easier for people with disabilities. But there are ways and means around the majority of issues.
There are two main things to consider when traveling on the train with a disability. The first being accessibility. I know, I know. I, too, am sick to the back teeth of having to check every place I go are accessible for me. Unfortunately for traveling by rail, it is essential! There are unfortunately still stations with inaccessible platforms/toilets/ticket offices/waiting room/etc. There are several means in which to check the accessibility of a station. This website has access details of all the stations in the UK. Theres also an option to help you plan your route through the station, which I have found to be very helpful. You need to be mindful of the restrictions on size and weight of powered wheelchairs and mobility scooters. For the vast majority of train companies, as long as your wheelchair/scooter is between 700mm wide by 1200mm long and weighs under the stated weight of the ramps available (normally between between 230kg and 300kg), you should be fine.
BUT…I have had major run ins with train companies before who think its ok to discriminate between wheelchair users and scooter users, and demand that all scooter users apply for a permit before traveling with them. I have called East Midlands Trains out on this policy already, and no changes were made…please feel free to complain again for me! Although this is better than the Heathrow express which bans them completely! This website gives details of the scooter/wheelchair restrictions of all train companies in the UK.
Station staff can help you in the following ways:
- meet you at the station entrance or another meeting point and assist you to your train
- provide a ramp on/off your train
- meet you from your train and assist you to a connecting train or to the exit
- carry up to three items of luggage
Its best to book assistance at least 24 hours in advance. If this isn’t possible you should still be able to get assistance. Just try to make sure you arrive with at least 30 minutes before your train, especially during peak periods. I have missed trains because I haven’t booked assistance in advance and there wasn’t enough staff available. This shouldn’t happen, but it can and does!
There are several ways to book assistance. You can contact the train company direct. This is a bit more difficult when you are travelling with different companies. You can complete this online form. Alternatively you can call 0800 022 3720 or 0845 60 50 600 with a textphone/minicom. I know that the powers that be say to book your ticket first, but I feel it is worth calling first to check your route. That way, you should be fairly sure that when you book your tickets you should have a fairly easy journey. Make sure you have your tickets to hand when you book assistance as they link it to your ticket number. You can ask for details of your assistance to be emailed to you if you need it.
Getting on and off trains
I’ve been told some people have been told (not asked I may add) to come down a ramp backwards. If you don’t have anti-tippers this might not be the safest option for you. They are unfortunately trained to use the ramps one way. You are completely within your rights to say that it doesn’t work for you and do it how you feel is safest.
There have been some cases where calls for assistance don’t get put through or the guard forgets to come and help you off. If this does happen, don’t feel that you can’t pull the emergency cord. This would not constitute improper use, as it is a matter of safety. Being helped off safely with a ramp rather than being stranded on a train you can’t disembark is a matter of safety!
The second thing to think about when planning on travelling by train is cost! Train travel shouldn’t cost the earth. It’s always best to book as far in advance as you can. There’s a large range of online train ticket brokers, or you can book direct with the train company. There’s always the old fashioned way of buying at the station. Sometimes there’s no way around it but to buy on the day. But this can be crazy expensive. The disabled person’s railcard is a great way to save a third on train fares, for yourself and a companion. You can check your eligibility here, and costs only £20 for a year. Even if you aren’t eligible for this railcard, there may be others available to you. You can still ask for assistance.
If you use a wheelchair for the entirety of your journey, then you are entitled to a third off certain ticket types, even if you don’t have a railcard. This also applies if you’re blind or visually impaired and travel with a companion. This discount goes up to 50% for anytime day return tickets. I was told this was offered by some and not all train companies but that just isn’t true! The 50% discount is only available on that ticket but is available on all services where this ticket is available. There is sometimes a minimum ticket price. This means for some very short journeys it may be cheaper to buy an un-discounted ticket. But this can always be checked with any local ticket office.
I hope this blog has put all your rail travel worries to rest! If you have any comments please feel free to add them at the bottom of the page!