'First time we've really been listened to': The changes being introduced for disabled passengers

Tap to watch a video report

The South East's biggest train company has renewed its commitment to improving travel for disabled people by announcing a series of new measures.

New training, mobile response teams and a reduction in time for passengers to book in advance form part of the accessible travel policy on Southern, Thameslink and the Gatwick Express. Although Govia Thameslink Railway admitted there is still work to do.

Fiona Bower and her assistance dog Mr Wiz regularly use trains to travel along the South coast, up to Gatwick Airport and into the London.

Fiona, who has Multiple Sclerosis, has been using a wheelchair for ten years and features in the new training video which has so far been shown to two thirds of GTR's 3,000 staff.

  • Watch: Fiona features in the new training video

Fiona said: "I'd hoped to show staff what good assistance really looks like. We just want to travel like everybody else. We want to be independent and I want that to come over in the training because it's being delivered by people like me.

"They will understand what good accessibility looks like and what good assistance looks like.

"This new policy is very big, I consider it to be the first time we've been really listened to."

New mobile teams will be on hand to offer assistance at Wivesfield and Balcombe stations Credit:

Train changes - what difference will passengers notice?

  • Passengers can always just turn up at a station unannounced but, for added confidence, they’ll be able to book assistance six hours before travel from Thursday. Currently this is a day before. compared to 10pm the day before at the moment. By April next year GTR will be asking for just two hours’ notice

  • At Wivesfield and Balcombe stations on the Brighton mainline new mobile support teams will be able to offer assistance with 20 minutes notice, once booking numbers reach 50% of pre-Covid levels

  • Accessibility Ambassadors will go from station to station to help improve disabled travel further

  • Improved information online and clearer signs at stations

'A great deal for the industry to do'

GTR says there is still more work for the industry to do Credit:

For generations the rail network has been criticised for failing to meet the needs of all passengers.

Southern's customer services director Chris Fowler says the new accessible policy will make a difference but there is still work to be done,

"I think there is still a great deal that the industry can do. What we've done in this policy takes us a great deal further than where we are today. In future the industry can look at what we can do make it possible for disabled people to travel without the assistance of staff.

"Customer service is at the heart of our railway and all train operators are on a real journey of improvement. We know how daunting it can be to travel when you need assistance. We want to create a more accessible and inclusive railway, where everyone has the confidence to travel no matter what their disability or need for assistance."