We know it can be difficult getting around the country via trains regardless of having a disability. Every week there seems to be more cancellations and delays than the week before and we constantly hear about the ongoing disputes between the companies and workers' unions. The continuous strikes mean that we, the public, are left with a very fractured service and we can't get anywhere fast. It recently took me over 3 hours to travel to London, a journey that used to take under 2 hours. To think these journeys are extremely stressful is an understatement. Having a disability can compound this further, it should be easy for a wheelchair user to use every type of public transport but it seems it is becoming more difficult on trains in recent years. There is hope on the horizon with a £250m investment to Midland Metro being announced by Theresa May this morning but then that targets only a small area of the country. The long term project of High Speed 2 is, from the outside, promising but then it'll not start services for over 9 years if it's on time. It is also poses the questions will the brand new trains be compatible with the current stations along those lines.
This is not predominantly a factor affecting disabled people however I thought I would mention it as it is an issue that affects everyone. Train fares have risen in recent times to extortionate levels and I've experienced a poorer service as time has gone on. Every week there seems to be a delay or cancellation for some reason or another and it can become very frustrating. If train operators are going to rise ticket prices then I expect an increase in the standard of service however that's not what I've seen, with people getting lower value for money. Disabled people can find it difficult using trains at the best of times but having to use a dodgy ramp to embark and disembark the train makes the experience worse. You'd have thought that with an increase in fares the train operators would invest more in disabled access but it doesn't seem apparent. Across Europe the large French and German operators have invested heavily into disabled access supplying lifts from the train to the platform. Compared with the UK, they've made it far easier for disabled people to use the train network and therefore get around the country. It doesn't seem like there is going to be a massive reduction in fares in the near future so it would be great to see our money being invested more wisely into integral services such as disabled access.
An issue that affects everyone and not just those with a disability is that trains from the 1980s still exist in certain parts of the country. Are these trains that are nearly 40 years old fit for service for the general public let alone wheelchair users? Simple answer - no they're not. The average age of a train on Britain's railways is over 20 years old and with an ever ageing and growing population, can these trains handle the demand? These older trains can be up to half a metre higher than the platform level and so makes disabled access a nightmare. A standard disability ramp in the UK has to have a gradient of between 1:12 to 1:20 - that would mean a 50cm height difference would have to have a 6 metre long ramp. Conventional disabled access ramps like these are cumbersome and difficult to manoeuvre in the short space of time a train stops at a station, in addition many platforms do not have 6 metres of space to work with.
Differing Heights and Trains
It seems strange that trains and platforms would vary in height so much, the apparent reason is due to constant network development with several stations being built over the decades since the Victorian Era. However you'd expect that there would be a standard height of platform or train floor but that doesn't seem to be the case. This is compounded by different train operators having slightly different designs and different types of trains having completely different operating heights. For example in the UK the "standard height" of a platform is 915mm but this can still vary, the Heathrow Express has platforms that measure 1100mm high. High Speed 1 connecting London to the Channel Tunnel has platforms measuring 760mm high and High Speed 2 will either have 550mm or 760mm platforms. These discrepancies are illogical but they exist and so we need to find a way to bridge these gaps. Sometimes these gaps between the train floor height and the platform are not manageable for able bodied people let alone wheelchair users.
This can be a difficult problem to solve for a station manager especially if he has more than one type of train going through his station. He could have different lengths of ramp depending on the train floor height but then he would have to have several different ramps and places to store them as well as the additional cost. Ease of use of should be at the forefront of everyone's minds, how can we make these services better for the customers. A simple but effective method to get around varying train heights is to have a portable train lift, easy to use and can rise up to a 1 metre to meet the train's floor level. Portable disabled access lifts are affordable and can be easily moved into position something station managers can find difficult with cumbersome ramps.
Trains are a time critical service, a small amount of time lost at one station can impact the onward journey and make a train late at it's terminal stop. It seems like we're stuck in the dark ages when it comes to disabled access for trains, several years behind Europe. With great variation within the distance between the train and the platform, getting the right ramp can be an arduous process and can be very time consuming. It can require 2 or more staff to manoeuvre into position then help the disabled passenger disembark the train. This can take a relatively long period of time and depending on the height of the train, the station manager might have to use different ramps. A simple solution to these problems is the portable disabled access train lift. It can be stored on the platform and then easily wheeled out when needed. As it is an adjustable platform lift it could operate at any height up to 1 metre and only needs one person to wheel it out and use it rather than 2 or more that can be used when positioning a ramp.
Disabled access is pretty lacklustre across Britain with ramps the predominantly used solution. However with varying platform sizes across the country and train operators using different carriage designs you would need more than one ramp. Ramps can also be cumbersome and take more than one person to simply position it in place ready for a disabled passenger. A portable train lift can be kept on the platform and simply wheeled out when needed. The lift can cover heights of up to 1 metre above the platform level and can be easily driven up and down to meet the train's floor level. In addition it only takes one person to move it into position then operate it. This frees up time for the other station staff to carry out other tasks therefore makes the station more efficient.