Northern Trains to miss New Year disability travel deadline

Troubled train operator Northern is among a number of firms that have been criticised by the Government after failing to meet new accessibility standards.

It's set to miss the New Year's Eve deadline to provide accessible carriages for disabled passengers on all journeys.

Earlier this month, Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris said it was 'deeply frustrating' that 1,200 carriages - around nine per cent of Britain's rail fleet - would not meet new standards.

The Tory MP wrote: "Owners and operators have had ten years to prepare for the December 31 2019 deadline. It is deeply frustrating that disabled passengers will still be waiting into 2020 to see accessibility improvements to some services."

Mr Heaton-Harris made his comments in a damning letter to industry body the Rail Delivery Group.

He acknowledged efforts made by the rail industry to improve accessibility through investment in new trains, and noted that manufacturing delays had affected its ability to meet the target.

Legislation on the accessibility of mainline trains dates back to 1998.

The latest standards include features such as audio-visual information systems and an accessible toilet if toilets are fitted.

Northern and Transport for Wales will continue to use Pacer trains next year despite a pledge to remove them by the end of 2019.

Most Pacers do not comply with modern accessibility standards, which include provision for passengers using wheelchairs.

Mr Heaton-Harris said he had "reluctantly agreed" to operators' requests to continue using non-compliant trains into 2020 as removing them from service would have a "disproportionately negative effect".

Meanwhile, the Rail Delivery Group announced today that around 1,000 extra train carriages will be introduced on Britain's railways next year. The industry body said new and refurbished trains are being deployed by nine operators, including Northern, increasing the nation's fleet from 14,800 carriages today to 15,800 by the end of 2020.

GPS technology will be used to provide passengers waiting on platforms with more accurate information about where their train is, reducing occasions where a service described as being on time is actually delayed.

The location of some older trains is only known when they pass signals, which can be up to five miles apart.

The introduction of new carriages means more trains will feature clearer information screens, helping passengers with learning difficulties or visual impairments, according to the RDG.

It said the majority of the 1,000 extra carriages will be new.

The return of refurbished carriages to the network will also increase the overall fleet size as most were replaced by new trains when they were taken out of service over the past two years.