Memorandum by Mark Blathwayt (PRF 31)
PASSENGER RAIL FRANCHISING
1.1 The Strategic Rail Authority published
an important document in April 2001. Train and Station Services
for Disabled Persons, A Code of Practice Draft for comment and
revision dated April 2001, is a beacon of hope. Although not yet
the whole answer, it is a good first step for the Strategic Rail
Authority which became responsible for duties towards disabled
passengers on 1 February 2001.
1.2 It is hoped the Transport Sub-Committee
will ask clearly that the International Rail Regulator must also
be required to prepare or adopt a Code of Practice for Train and
Station Services for Disabled Passengers no less thorough than
that prepared by the Strategic Rail Authority. Can transport really
be integrated without such co-operation?
1.3 The European Union's Technical Specifications
for Inter-operability, which should include all the trans European
high speed rail system, has not done much to secure much more
universal access to the Channel Tunnel for wheelchair users. Why
is this when the SRA itself states that in the UK 7.5 million
people have Arthritis, 4.5 million have difficulty walking and
800,000 people use wheelchairs?
2.1 The European Commission Council Directive
95/18/EC governing International Services through the Channel
Tunnel does not include any conditions equivalent to the conditions
for Provision of Services for Disabled People included in domestic
2.2 The SRA must actively be helped to take
a higher profile and to bring pressure on all parties in Europe
to speed up changes that will ensure trains using the Channel
Tunnel also cater inclusively for groups of people with different
2.3 Channel Tunnel journeys are not "separate
journeys" but only elements of overall journeys which begin
or finish in the UK and are subject to the SRA. Is the SRA fully
"strategic" if excluded from the strategic link direct
to the Continent?
3.1 Although often portrayed in public simply
as an issue of safety is it more complex? Is it a question of
resources and priorities?
3.2 In the case of the abandoned "Night
Star" services from the regions of the UK, was it true there
was a slight hint that it would be best if the carriages were
sold abroad as this might neatly avoid issues of competitive importance
to air services to the continent from the regions of Britain?
Steps need to be taken to encourage transport initiatives that
get round the problems of congested European skies, airport noise
and restricted wheelchair access on aeroplanes. Using rail is
more fuel and cost efficient in environmental terms.
4.1 Sometimes initiatives that would promote
fairer and more universal access are "frightened off"
and delayed by the very agents who should be encouraging and helping.
4.2 There are only limited resources and
expertise available for helping with the preparation of safety
cases including safety policy and objectives, setting out risk
assessments, safety management systems and risk control measures.
4.3 The project, for example to convert
some of the Night Star carriages into simpler lighter more universally
accessible train sets benefiting all in society, would not have
been lost for the time being if some pre-conceived ideas about
the problems such services might encounter to begin with had not
been allowed to obscure the long term benefits.
5.1 A new timetable needs to be agreed soon
to bring forward the date by which all passenger rail vehicles
must comply with the Rail Vehicle Accessibility Regulations.
5.2 An early date must be agreed as a priority
to ensure that every rail vehicle in Europe has spaces for at
least two wheelchair users and a wheelchair accessible WC lavatory.
5.3 The Strategic Rail Authority must ask
that the Rail Vehicle Accessibility Regulations be changed to
encourage exploration of ways of giving access that do not exclude
the larger electric powered wheelchair. Questions of size, manoeuvrability,
stability, weight and safety are all part of answers that are
needed to end exclusion, isolation or the need to travel on the
margin of what is acceptable.
5.4 Whereas it is commonly suggested that
somewhere between 4 per cent and 5 per cent of accommodation on
each train should be accessible for ordinary wheelchair users,
would it be reasonable
(a) to accept that for trains consisting
of up to two carriages there should be space for one larger powered
(b) for three to four carriage trains there
should be space for two larger powered wheelchairs?
(c) for five to eight carriage trains there
should be space for three large powered wheelchairs?
(d) for trains of nine or more carriages
spaces for four larger powered wheelchairs?
5.5 When these spaces are not needed by
users of such heavier but increasingly common, powered wheelchairs,
they are available instead to cyclists for whom existing capacity
is not meeting demand.
6.1 Could a new sense of leadership, with
a spirit of "can do" help the railways embrace new technological
improvements and human perceptions? How dispiriting was it for
the railway community to see carriages that had been specially
commissioned to link the Regions of the UK to the Regions of Europe
actually designed to a specification that made them difficult
to use unless modified, and then to see them sold to Canada? Who
listened to all those who cared? Good leadership is listening
6.2 It is now recognised that some parts
of the railway network were prematurely closed. Is it not time
now to look afresh at the way the railway network is perceived?
Would it be logical to see whether track and services might be
looked at in a way that integrates function and form in the way
an architect would understand the issues?
7.1 Improvements that assist all users of
the railway system require it to be made attractive to operators
to invest in infrastructure and rolling stock. The nation needs
to rediscover the ways that foster loyalty and commitment from
participants, new and old, large and small.
7.2 People will feel enthusiastic about
leaving their cars at home and using public transport when their
eyes are opened to see bicycles and wheelchairs being welcomed
properly on to trains. It will be a clear sign that railways are
listening to the real needs of all would be passengers and to
the staff working to provide safe, reliable, efficient service
that does not discriminate.