There has been an increase in the number of people with disabilities who are choosing to use the rail network to get around. There has also been an improvement in the accessibility of rail services and train stations.
However, many people with disabilities still experience challenges and difficulties with using public transport and still feel there is a lot more that needs to be done.
Carrie-Ann Lightely works for an organisation called Tourism for All, which helps disabled tourists with personalised holiday and travel information, as well as holiday and travel companies improve their accessibility.
She also has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. Her work requires her to travel from Oxenholme station down to Manchester often and she opts to use trains, although she has faced a number difficulties on them, including being forgotten about and left on a train for up to 20 minutes:
- Watch the special report aired on ITV Border News at the end of this article
Award-winning Paralympian and disability campaigner Anne Wafula Strike recently shared how she was forced to wet herself on a three-hour journey because the train didn't have an accessible toilet.
Actress and disability campaigner, Samantha Renke, also shared how she experienced difficulties getting to her reserved space and not being able to use a toilet on a two-and-a-half hour journey, because the only accessible toilet was blocked.
Both feel there is still a lot more to be done to allow disabled passengers to feel included and safe.
Some main concerns shared by commuters with disabilities include:
- having to book assistance 24 hour or more in advance
- being forgotten or left on the train
- not having a conductor on hand to assist them during the journey
- no space in the designated wheelchair area
- being enclosed by luggage
- accessible toilet not working
- not having access to the accessible toilet
- being placed right by a smelly toilet and excluded from other passengers
The rail industry says the increase in people with disabilities choosing to commute is in part because of its improvements over the past couple of decades, but it also understands that more needs to be done.
One rail operator has introduced disability awareness courses for members of its staff to take, in order to help them provide better assistance to its customers who may need help.
Managers at TransPennine Express, which operates in the north west and west midlands of England, say they hope it will also get people with disabilities more confident with using trains.
The course includes staff working their way around a station wearing special goggles that simulate various types of visual impairments. Momentarily putting themselves in the shoes of their disabled customers, they hope it will help them provide better assistance; although they stress that it does not mean they "know what it feels like to be blind".
It is part of the operator's wider £500million programme gearing up to the rollout of their new fleet of trains. They also plan to build lower ticket desk counters, improve disabled toilets and add hand railings and ramps at a number of their stations.
Carrie-Ann agrees that having staff who better empathise and understand needs of people with disabilities can lead to progress in the help provided.
She says train managers or conductors are particularly important, as she realised when one manager helped her through what could have been a very unpleasant journey:
A number of rail operators have shared the possibility of introducing driver-only trains, axing the role of train conductors, which has led to an ongoing dispute and strikes organised by the Rail, Maritime and Transport union affecting a number of operators including Northern Rail, at Southern Railway, Merseyrail and Arriva Trains North.
Passengers who consider themselves vulnerable are also worried about their safety onboard should there be no conductors to assist.
TransPennine Express say they agree that customer service providers on trains are important to keep.
The issue of having to book in advance means people who require assistance are unable to embark on a spontaneous train journey, unlike other passengers.
Carrie-Ann has experienced problems with TransPennine Express's online booking assistance option, in which assistance for her train journey wasn't confirmed, despite her booking it two days previously - 24 hours more than what was required.
Charlie French, a manager at TransPennine Express, said the national booking system does have its limitations.
Carrie-Ann believes people with disabilities would feel more confident travelling on trains, just by seeing more of others like themselves...
Campaigners say the industry could continue seeing a rise in disabled commuters if steady progress is continued to be made by rail operators, though many say rail operators still have a lot to do to make their disabled passengers, like Carrie-Ann, consistently feel included and safe.
Watch the special news report by Simisola Jolaoso below: