Memorandum by Planet Practice (TYP 43)
Those who prepare or review a 10 Year Transport
Plan ask themselves many important questions. Some carry more
weight than others. The need for clarity of purpose and openness
and truth is obvious but for how many people is compassion part
How high on the list of priorities are the real
needs of wheelchair users? How do we avoid token gestures to wheelchair
users or cyclists that ignore real need or condone exclusion?
Why is there a mindset that so rarely grasps
the reality that a public transport system that fully includes
wheelchair users is a transport system that is easier and better
for the non wheelchair using public as well?
Since the Government White Paper in 1998, controls,
regulations and outside direction on train and track operators
have multiplied; the first Chairman of the Strategic Rail Authority
has come and gone. Meanwhile, maintenance contractors and manufacturers
have seen their profitability grow rapidly as the country at last
begins to catch up on the backlog of repairs and renewals after
60 years of short term fixes and under investment.
It is hoped that within the examples below whether
of good practice or missed opportunities, details illustrate a
wider picture. Technical excellence contrasted elsewhere with
a blinkered view that comes close to the borders of cultural and
institutionalised prejudice against the real needs of wheelchair
users or cyclists.
In 1998 the communities of Oban, Tobermory and
Coll contemplated the recent dislocations of their transport network.
If the 10 Year Transport Plan is to be anything
real, such strategic and social links between the Inner Hebrides
islands of Mull and Coll will be re-established without delay.
Proposals for a summer service between Mull
and Coll in 2002 are still in the process of being finalised.
Sustainable rural communities, like communities everywhere, also
need winter transport links.
It is fair to say that the transport needs for
those on the margins is equally important in inner cities. They
await the re-establishment of urban transport systems that link
together rather than marginalizing. This imperative includes the
car-less, the wheelchair user and, most important, entices and
persuades the car owner to leave the car behind in order to walk
or to travel, for example, in pollution reducing trams instead.
Manchester, Croydon, Nottingham and others places
get on with construction and operation of modern trams that take
traffic out of city streets while letting prosperity in. Why is
it that other cities, like Bath and Bristol are still floundering
around apparently ignorant of effective independent advice which
helps make things happen in other European cities?
Early this summer, plans to connect Exmoor National
Park to the main rail network were well advanced. Exmoor remains
one of the few National Parks that cannot easily be reached by
rail. The proposals to upgrade the link from the West Somerset
Railway to the West of England Main Line via Bishops Lydeard,
Norton Fitzwarren, Silk Mills and Taunton were long overdue and
had wide local authority, National Park, local and regional support.
A new bridge, wide enough to accommodate the upgraded links, was
to replace a major road level crossing on the main line, which
badly hampers both road and rail use in the area. These proposals
are now delayed.
How many similar elements of the rail network,
which are vital to local regional economies, have at best been
put on hold or, at worst, will be short-sightedly scrapped by
advisors, from outside the region, who appear to those in the
transport or rail industry to be out of sympathy with the philosophy
of a railway network that is inclusive of people and places?
The "Beeching cuts" were not well
advised on strategic or land use or social grounds. A decade or
more later, we were spared even worse when the Serpell Report
was dismissed. It was this report that had suggested that the
London to Bristol route did not need the extra loop via Chippenham
and Bath. Some now share the fear that another attempt at Serpell-like
rationalisation, driven by a faith in buses, may threaten both
such routes and also meaningful accessible transport systems flexible
enough to include cyclists and wheelchair users as passengers.
When British Railways were given permission
to close the railway to Minehead, buses were put on instead. Children
going to Taunton for further education could do coursework or
read and study on the train; buses made them sick. Wheelchair
users who visited and enjoyed Minehead's promenades were disenfranchised,
when the mainline railway link closed. "Bustitution"
is not good news for wheelchair users or cyclists.
Inner city areas, just as much as places like
Exmoor, need links that are environmentally sound and accessible.
The West Somerset Railway has special carriages each capable of
accommodating 10-12 wheelchair users. Quite large groups of cyclists
can also be welcomed. It shows just what can rightly be expected
and delivered by a "not for profit" well run railway
provided there is direct accountability to the shareholders determined
to do what it takes to ensure that their railway exists and prospers
in the community. In many ways such railways are inspirational.
Sir Peter Baldwin, as chairman of Diptac, officially commissioned
the first such carriage on the West Somerset Railway while Eurostar
was scarcely past the concept stage.
The economy and environment of West Somerset
and Exmoor will benefit greatly if the 10 Year Plan makes it clear
that such local schemes and partnerships will be properly funded
as "priority pilot projects"
Between King's Cross platform 9 and Cambridge,
brilliant new trains run, that provide as near excellent universal
wheelchair access as any non specially built rail vehicle. There
is no reason why all rail carriages used in Britain and Europe
should not meet or exceed the standards they set. Wide central
aisles, with pairs of seats on either side and decent leg room,
mean that, as well as welcoming significant numbers of wheelchair
users to travel on the same train, if they wish to do so, these
trains are easier for all other passengers to get on and off.
Those whose job it is to work in the trains confirm repeatedly
that passenger circulation, ticket inspections and sales from
the trolley are all much better, and easier, than in other rolling
stock. These and other less obvious benefits have flowed from
taking greater notice of the needs of people using wheelchairs.
The trains, described above, are known as Low
Density Networker Class 365 and, it is understood, were the last
product of the old British Railways Board.
It is an un-explained and more than slightly
strange lost opportunity that the same British Railways Board
did not recommend to the Department of Transport and the Department
of Transport Mobility and Inclusion Unit and the European partners
in the project for the channel tunnel link that the same guiding
principals that inspired the Cambridge to King's Cross train should
be used for fitting out or re-fitting out all future Eurostars.
If Eurostars had been fitted out following the
"universal access principles" to be found on the King's
Cross to Cambridge Low-Density Networker Class 365, many of the
obstacles to group wheelchair travel could be more easily addressed
and overcome. Had they been so built Disabled Veteran Associations
visiting European Memorial services, people needing to use wheelchairs
participating in sports events, cyclists of all ages and groups
from Cheshire Homes, the Sue Ryder Foundation, L'Arche Communities
and others would begin to enjoy by rail the fruits of a more united
Europe. It is simply so sad that because of these oversights and
the embarrassment that these have subsequently caused that for
the moment the channel tunnel remains a hollow sham for many of
the 800,000 people in the UK who use Wheelchairs.
It was announced on 19 December 2000 that the
British built and funded "Nightstar" carriages that
would have most economically have provided universal wheelchair
accessible access to the UK from the Continent, via the channel
tunnel, were being sold to Canada.
Eurostar "inter regional" sets designed
to bring much needed tourists from the regions of Europe to the
regions of the UK are instead trundling up and down between London
The 10 Year Plan must make it a Priority to
forbid any monopoly any where from preventing, obstructing, frustrating,
or in any other way, discouraging the planning and operation of
inter-regional and cross channel tunnel train services that are
accessible to wheelchair users travelling in groups together.
"Making it easier for passengers"
must ensure that sufficient resources are devoted to prevent the
scandal of last minute platform announcements and change of platform
announcements that are frequently scarcely audible and make travel
a nightmare for those disabled by injury or those with different
abilities, the elderly or families with children. It's not much
fun if you're fit with good hearing, it is sometimes impossible
and dangerous if you are elderly.
Railway industry staff who owned shares in their
business and were committed to the future have not in recent weeks
heard much about how their loyalty will be rewarded. Shareholders
such as them are, from time to time, portrayed by some as greedy
money seekers. Any one of them who put in £700 or so into
railway shares in railtrack, because they believed the long term
endorsements by government and others confirming the central part
their industry and business played in the role of the nation,
have despite the headline dominating sound-bites, only received
back some £230 of that money as dividend. The railway industry
still has the use and benefit of the rest of the money for nothing
at least for the time being. Many in the industry have lost much
more, and not just money and savings; they have lost faith; their
"new deal" of being investors in the nation's capital
has been described and ridiculed by a small number as nothing
better than the rough deserts of a gang of get rich quick merchants.
This is only a part of the true price that has
been paid by the railways for the divorcing of themselves from
well-intentioned private investment by supporters and people in
the railway industry everywhere. Why has their trust been betrayed?
What damage will have been done to labour relations? Is it not
true that the railways depend on a trust and commitment of staff
and thousands who build their livelihoods around them? The 10
Year Plan must recognise this and effect a reconciliation.
It is a crucial time. The radical changes to
the climate in which the railway industry must operate have thrown
into confusion initiatives that still have an important role to
play. Real hopes have been and are still being dashed. Real injury
in many places must be healed.
Why was the Glasnost and Perestroika that many
expected under the imaginative leadership of the now retired chairman
of the Strategic Rail Authority denied them?
Whatever the details of the 10 Year Plan, there
must be confirmation that routes won't close, that services will
not be cut, that simpler cheaper access to tickets will be developed
to ensure that the passenger and travel operator recognise that
they are partners in the same endeavour.
It is not entirely different for trams, or the
new rural buses that have reduced reliance on the car in some
areas, and the measures that should encourage and woo our population
to shop and to go to work without the car. These too require trust
and a willingness to listen and learn on all sides. Above all,
do not anyone be hoodwinked into creating a "better more
efficient railway" that is in fact a more efficient reduced
Mixed housing development, such as the Poundbury
extension to Dorchester, is intrinsically attractive. "Journey
and place are part of the same endeavour." Poundbury provides
safe walking and reliable dependable public transport. It is accessible
socially, financially as well as being physically inclusive to
the wheelchair user. It will help our nation rediscover that it
is possible to live more peacefully, to travel less but travel
better, to travel more safely, to travel more cheaply, when we
wish to, not just because we have no choice. Such an approach
can soften and even make attractive the changes to our country's
landscape that are necessary to accommodate the changing way in
which we live and travel.
7 January 2002