Disabled people let down by ‘tick box’ attitude to Accessibility

Listening to Nusrat Ghani during the Westminster Hall debate earlier this week discussing the lack of step-free access at Flitwick station, I was struck by how the ‘tick box’ mentality still remains when dealing with accessibility issues. Ms Ghani MP, who is Under Secretary of State for Transport, pointed out that six out of the eight stations in the Mid Bedfordshire constituency were step-free.

Mid Beds Correct Rank
Stations in Mid Bedfordshire Constituency – figures from the ORR

While technically she is indeed correct, this is looking at the situation that faces disabled and elderly people in Mid Bedfordshire with rose tinted glasses which seems to prevent a true picture of reality.

What wasn’t mentioned was that the two stations, Flitwick and Harlington, with the highest passenger figures, don’t have step-free access, dwarfing the combined footfall of all six step-free stations combined.

The Government proudly announces on a regular basis that 75% of passenger journeys on the railway take place from stations that are step-free. Shockingly in Mid Bedfordshire this figure is only 7%.

Harlington Station Platform 4 – the only accessible platform, but virtually no trains!

Further, when you start looking at those stations in Mid Bedfordshire that do have step-free access a less favourable picture appears:

  • Aspley Guise – unstaffed, no accessible toilet, no car park, no set down area
  • Kempston Hardwick – unstaffed, no accessible toilet, no car park, no set down area
  • Lidlington – unstaffed, no accessible toilet, no car park, no set down area
  • Millbrook – unstaffed, no accessible toilet, no car park, no set down area
  • Ridgmont – unstaffed, no accessible toilet
  • Stewartby – unstaffed, no accessible toilet, no car park, no set down area.

The lack of staff, accessible toilets, car parks and set down/pick up areas for mobility impaired people creates a significant barrier for disabled people to use these stations and travel independently.

Harlington station in Bedfordshire is described in the National Rail Enquiries as having step-free access to the ticket hall and Platform 4 (it’s a moot point as very few trains stop at this accessible platform, but there you go) and it has a disabled parking bay very close to the station entrance – box ticked.

However, the seeming inability of train companies to see their stations from a disabled person’s perspective is demonstrated when the lack of a dropped kerb from the disabled parking bay rules out many wheelchair users from accessing the station.

Harlington Station

Arlesey station ticks the ‘step free access coverage’ box, but again this only tells part of the story. Each of the two platforms are indeed step free, enabling disabled and elderly people and those with young children to board a train without too much difficulty.

However, the return trip presents difficulties as, on arrival back at Arlesey you will always be returning to the opposite platform. This means you will be on the opposite side to your car if you have one – and if you cannot negotiate the 60 odd steps, be then faced with an extremely long trip (0.88 miles and a 17 minute walk along an unlit main road) to get back to the correct side.

Information like this would be very useful, even if just to save you from an exhausting trip, but the National Rail Enquiries website offers no such advice or hint of what awaits the unwary traveller. The Train Operating Companies, who have responsibility for the website through the Rail Delivery Group seem content to offer customers a startlingly out of scale map, shown below.

Arlesey Station Map
Arlesey station as per National Rail Enquiries website

Sandy station, a few miles North of Arlesey, has similar issues with a lengthy journey to get from one side to the other and no mention at all of the adverse camber and steep slope faced by wheelchair users as they negotiate their way between the two platforms. These issues don’t require high-tech solutions or fancy graphics, they just need input from the perspective of disabled people to provide realistic information for all passengers.

How many steps there are between platforms will mean nothing to many, but it means a great deal to those with impaired mobility, yet this information is absent from the National Rail Enquiries website which is in desperate need of a reality check.

We need disabled people to be at the heart of station improvement planning, not consulted as a tick box exercise when all the work has been done. Those in charge of the railways (not an easy task to find out in itself) must follow the twin mantras used by disability activists: ‘design with us not for us’ and ‘nothing about us without us’.

If we raise the bar for disabled people we raise it for all – let’s do it and let’s do it right!

Julian Vaughan

Co-founder Bedfordshire Rail Access Network

Twitter: @juliman66


5 thoughts on “Disabled people let down by ‘tick box’ attitude to Accessibility

  1. This a sorry state of affairs. No thought given to the elderly and disabled. Every thought given to misinformation…..
    In October I will travel by train from a rural area in Bavaria to Munich Airport . This involves two trains and the S. Bahn, in all nearly three hours.
    At over 70 years old I can do this easily with a suitcase and hand luggage. Hopefully my daughter will remember to meet at Flitwick Station or I’m stuffed……..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Wendy thanks for reading my blog. Disabled and elderly people (and those with young children) should be able to travel independently without ‘help’ as such. As you say as it stands at the moment people invariably need assistance and unfortunately not everyone has support available. This results in people not travelling at all and loneliness and social isolation. Our Bedfordshire Rail Access Network team will do all we can to improve this – we are very determined!


  2. Julian, very perceptive statements there. I’m Transport Officer for The Leighton Buzzard Society http://www.leightonbuzzardsociety.com. Am a retired chartered engineer who does his best to promote public transport. I have a particular gripe with the present situation at Luton Rail station & the associated transport interchange which Luton BC developed some years ago. Network Rail’s “access for all” is a long time coming at the railway station. There are no public toilets provided as such at the interchange. There are toilets in the Costa cafe which also includes an enquiry office staffed by Arriva. However these are allegedly for cafe users only, but the disabled toilet is invariably left open for anyone to use. What happens when the Costa cafe closes? Trains, buses & coaches continue to run until late in the evening. I’ve used the toilets on platform 3 of the station by permission of the barrier staff but was stopped last year on one occasion the excuse being given as health & safety as I was not a bona fide rail traveller, entirely true, I use the Green Line 757 coach & park at the multi storey car park from time to time.
    I complained to Cllr Paul Castleman of Luton BC about these anomalies who promised to look into the issues. That was over a year ago & Ive not visited the station & interchange for some time so am unaware of any improvements to this disgraceful situation.
    I’d be interested to hear if you have any further info on this unfortunate state of affairs at one of the most heavily used transport interchanges in Beds. I do realise that legally Luton BC are a unitary authority & rank with Bedford BC & CBC as Bedfordshire local authorities.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The same sort of silliness happens in other parts of the country.

    We, the Stalybridge to Huddersfield Rail Users’ Group, represent rail users at four stations with (before the May 2018 timetable fiasco persuaded large numbers of passengers that they would be better off using their cars) a combined footfall of well over a million passenger journeys per year.

    Mossley and Greenfield have disabled access on westbound platforms only. Marsden has disabled access on one of the two westbound platforms, but no disabled access eastbound.

    Slaithwaite station ticks all the boxes for disabled access, but the reality is rather different. Level access is available to the eastbound platform, and from the station car park direct to the westbound platform. However, the only link between the eastbound platform and the car park/westbound platform is a steep cobbled ramp which for a wheelchair user is neither safe nor practicable. Yet, officially, there is full disabled access so it can be filed under no action required.

    These stations have not been allowed to bid for improvements under the access for all scheme, as disabled access is supposed to be provided as part of the Transpennine Route Upgrade (TRU). Yet whenever we (and our MPs) ask anyone in the railway industry (up to and including the previous Secretary of State) whether TRU will provide full disabled access at all stations they avoid eye contact and change the subject. We cannot even find out when, or whether, TRU will take place. The rail minister stood up in parliament on 10th January and said work would start in the Spring. It didn’t, and there has been no update since then. So we cannot apply for funding from other sources because of a project which may have been cancelled or indefinitely postponed.

    Then there’s the farce of disabled access at Marsden. Until May 2018 almost all westbound trains used platform 3, which has level access from the street. In May 2018 this was changed, with all but a couple of early morning trains using platform 2, accessed by a long flight of steep steps. Worse than this, there was a 51cm height difference between platform 2 and the trains which now called there. Not surprisingly there were protests from passengers, councillors and the MP.

    The logical solution would have been to revert to platform 3, but sending trains off the mainline into the platform 3 loop incurs a time penalty of 1½ minutes, which would have made an unworkable timetable even worse. But in December the DfT allocated a fund to pay for improvements at some of the places worst affected by the May 2018 timetable meltdown, and that coincided with a meeting we had with the Secretary of State and the Rail Minister. The catch with this fund is that it had to be both allocated and spent by the end of March. So instead of making changes which would enable the accessible platform to be used again, hundreds of thousands of pounds were spent on raising the height of platform 2. The height difference between platform and train has been fixed, but it remains inaccessible. Network Rail put out a press release describing this as an access improvement, which technically it is. It’s now possible for a wheelchair user to get off a train at platform 2, but the only thing they can then do is wait there for the next train an hour later.


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