Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by Mark Blathwayt (PRF 31)

PASSENGER RAIL FRANCHISING

NEW GUIDANCE BY STRATEGIC RAIL AUTHORITY

  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?

NEW APPROACH

  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 licences.

  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 abilities.

  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?

DIFFICULTIES NEGOTIATING CHANGES

  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.

LONG TERM APPROACHES REMAIN IMPORTANT

  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.

IMMEDIATE CHANGES

  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 wheelchair?

    (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.

IMPROVING MORALE ON THE RAILWAYS

  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 leadership.

  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?

EFFECTIVE INVESTMENT IN RAILWAYS IS LONG TERM

  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.

September 2001


 
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