Tanni Grey-Thompson ‘done with being patient’ over train access

Paralympian Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson has said she is “done with being patient” after it emerged that hundreds of train carriages will fail to meet accessibility standards coming into force next year.

The 50-year-old, who takes around 160 rail journeys each year, said travelling by train is “still really difficult” for disabled people.

She added that wheelchair users are often unable to get on or off trains because members of staff trained to use ramps are not in position despite assistance being booked.

Legislation on the accessibility of mainline trains dates back to 1998, with the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 saying all trains must be accessible by January 1 2020.

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson said improvements should have started 20 years ago (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson said improvements should have started 20 years ago (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The Department for Transport (DfT) said around 800 of Britain’s 14,000 passenger train carriages do not comply with the incoming rules.

The latest standards include features such as:

– Audio-visual information systems
– Easy to use handholds and handrails
– An accessible toilet, if toilets are fitted

In an interview with the PA news agency, Baroness Grey-Thompson, one of the UK’s most successful disabled athletes, said: “They needed to start doing this 20 years ago.

“I do understand that a train carriage is expensive, and you have to get the maximum amount of life out of it. But there’s also a lot that could be done to make the service more accessible.

“I’m just a bit bored of being told I need to be patient. I’m done with being patient. Let’s see some action.”

Speaking earlier this week, rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris said he was “really cross” about the January 1 deadline being missed.

He said: “I mention this in every meeting I have with train operating companies.

“They’ve had plenty of time to get ready and I’m very disappointed we’re going to have some operators requesting time-limited dispensations.”

Ceri Smith, policy and campaigns manager at disability equality charity Scope, said: “Disabled people have been waiting decades for changes to happen.”

At least eight rail companies are seeking permission from the DfT to continue running non-compliant trains from January 1.

It they fail to reach an agreement then trains will be taken out of use, resulting in services being cancelled.

A Northern Pacer train
A Northern Pacer train

Northern and Transport for Wales (TfW) have confirmed they will continue using 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.

Northern blamed a delay in the arrival of new trains being built by Spanish manufacturer CAF, while there has also been a hold-up in TfW receiving trains refurbished by rolling stock company Porterbrook.

Other operators that have asked the DfT for a dispensation for some of their trains include ScotRail, East Midlands Railway, Great Western Railway, South Western Railway, West Midlands Trains and London Overground.

Dominic Lund-Conlon, head of accessibility and inclusion at industry body the Rail Delivery Group, said taxis will be provided in some cases where a train does not meet the needs of passengers.

He noted that 7,000 new carriages are being rolled out by train companies, but accepted there is “more to do” to ensure rail travel is available to as many people as possible.

“Our aim is to get people where they want to be, safely, with dignity and in comfort,” he added.

Figures published by the Office of Rail and Road show the average age of Britain’s passenger trains was 19.2 years on March 31, down 0.4 years compared with the same date in 2018.