Working together to build an accessible railway for all
As part of the rail industry’s long-term plan, which contains commitments to improve customer satisfaction and make communities stronger, we want the railway to be accessible to everyone.
The Rail Delivery Group’s accessibility team is working hard to improve accessibility for customers across the network, and we are involving rail companies, stakeholders and advocacy groups to help us.
Over the last year, we have developed a detailed programme of work, with a two to three-year roadmap now endorsed by the industry and its stakeholders. This work is centred on tackling the challenges our customers face and improving overall experience by embracing new technologies and ensuring our staff can provide the best possible service, not just for people with disabilities but for everyone who uses our railway.
The latest National Rail Passenger Survey presents an encouraging picture already. In the Spring National Rail Passenger survey, 83% of disabled passengers were satisfied with their overall journey. Similarly, 79% of disabled respondents were happy with assistance from staff. Despite these positive scores, it is clear that the rail industry must find ways to improve and better meet the needs of disabled passengers in new and innovative ways.
Our work centres on five key areas.
Staff better placed to help all passengers
In a landmark coming together this October, train companies, Network Rail and suppliers launched ‘In Partnership for Britain’s Prosperity’, - a single, long-term plan for a changing and improving railway. This sets out how Britain’s public and private partnership railway will secure almost £85bn of additional economic benefits to the country and enable further improvements. Major investment is planned to improve train services, including over 5,700 new train carriages and 6,400 more train services a week by 2021.
As they introduce new trains and more services, train companies are also looking at how they can better help customers at stations and on trains, including those who need help to access trains. Train companies employ almost 50% more people than they did 20 years ago, and this includes staff to help customers. And over the next decade, we estimate there will be 100,000 job opportunities across the country in rail.
On Southern Rail, the second member of staff on some train services, known as an on-board supervisor (OBS), no longer has to open and close the doors because technology means this is done by the driver. This means that the OBS can spend more time helping passengers, including people who need assistance to get on and off the train. Govia Thameslink Railway, the company that operates Southern Rail, now runs trains with a second member of staff on board, including on Gatwick Express trains. Feedback from Southern passengers about the OBS role has been extremely positive.
New ramps to improve access
We have developed a prototype of a ramp which is capable of fitting at least 90% of trains to make it safer and easier for disabled passengers to board as well as for staff to use. At the moment, up to 25 different ramps are used throughout the network. Some are cumbersome, heavy, take time to use and can cause anxiety to passengers by being too steep or unsteady. Our new ramp is 25% lighter than existing ramps and reduces the gradient between platform and train by 25%.
This autumn, we will run pilots with train operating companies to ensure that the ramp is safe and that it’s fit for purpose. We’re committed to safety, so the project is being channelled through all industry safety groups.
This new ramp is part of our commitment to improving customer satisfaction and better connecting communities by making it easier for people to use the railway. Going forward, there shouldn’t be any room for confusion when it comes to helping people on and off trains.
Calling in for assistance
Passengers requiring assistance getting on and off our trains can book this ahead of time to get the help they need. In February, we rolled out a single Freephone assist number, easily connecting passengers to the right place to book their assistance.
For deaf and hard of hearing passengers, we launched a national free SMS service in June, providing passengers with the correct train operating company’s number to dial from their special textphone units to book passenger assistance requests. Feedback received has praised this as a positive step which makes the deaf community feel included.
This has led to the RDG accessibility team being nominated and shortlisted for several awards for innovation in customer experience, including the Engage 2017 Awards, the UK IT Industry Awards and the European Contact and Customer Services Awards. All these awards happen in November and we are proud to have been shortlisted.
Turn-up-and-go assistance gives passengers even more flexibility, because those requiring assistance can receive it without booking up to 24 hours in advance. This service is being trialled with five train operating companies and 170 stations, but we are working to develop this more widely. We currently advertise the service at those 170 stations via www.nationalrail.co.uk. We are working on an industry charter to get more train companies on board and increase the service which will give more people the confidence to travel by train wherever they want to.
Understanding our disabled passengers
We’ve held a series of inclusive journey experience days with a number of disability groups to try and understand what it’s like to travel with a disability. Participants have included The Mental Health Action Group, Network Rail’s Built Environment Accessibility Panel and Project Aspie who support people with autism. This invaluable feedback helps us plan with consideration for our passengers’ unique situations. We are also working with Whizz-Kidz UK, a group that aims to transform the lives of disabled children in the UK. We have set the Whizz-Kidz Board a challenge to design the train journey of the future - who better to design this than our future independent travellers? The winning design will be plugged into our Accessibility programme.
Disabled Persons Railcard
In addition to our detailed programme of work we also work with the train companies, to help customers save money on their rail travel. We offer a Disabled Persons Railcard for people who have a disability. With a Disabled Persons Railcard you get a third of Standard and First Class Anytime, Off-Peak and Advance fares, for you and a friend, for just £20 a year. The money customers save on rail travel can then be used on days out and making more of the places they are visiting. This boosts local economies and makes communities stronger.
Everybody should be able to benefit from the opportunities that the railway opens up. We have more to do but by making better use of new technology and ensuring our staff are able to provide the best possible service, we intend to make rapid progress.
Micky Ball, Customer Experience