RDG publishes report on future of accessible rail travel

The Rail Delivery Group (RDG), which brings together train operators and Network Rail to improve the railway, is at the forefront of the industry’s modernisation of Britain’s railway.

At the heart of its ambition is the improvement of customer service and experience for all of our customers. A report, On Track for 2020?: The Future of Accessible Rail Travel, commissioned by RDG and written in 2015, highlighted the specific challenges facing the railway in meeting the needs of older and disabled passengers. This report has since helped shape our thinking on how best to meet the increasing expectations for a more accessible and inclusive railway. 

The report considered rolling stock, station facilities and policies relating to staff on board and at stations, all of which have an impact on the ability of customers with accessibility requirements to travel. While overall optimistic in its outlook, it highlighted some clear areas of focus including how we ensure customers with specific accessibility needs can be helped when a Guard is not present on the train. RDG welcomes the opportunity the modernisation of our Railway brings, allowing us to redeploy as many frontline staff to customer-facing roles, where they are best utilised in providing excellent customer service and helping passengers to complete their journey. 

As the report recognises, we are clear that we need to do more to improve accessibility on the railway, if we want to make it as easy as possible for everyone to be able to enjoy travelling by train independently.

Rail services are now far more accessible than ever before and we know that we have a responsibility to our customers and the communities we serve to keep on improving accessibility to the rail network. Working together, rail companies and Network Rail have made huge improvements thanks to significant investment which is making journeys better now and for the long term. 

We want to invest even more. We want to work with customers, campaigners and government to help us secure more funding and agree how best to spend what is available to continue modernising the railway to make it even more accessible and meet all our customers’ expectations.   

Record numbers of disabled people are travelling by train and the vast majority simply turn up and go, but we know we can do better. We want to ensure that those who most require assistance get the help they need too; modernising the railway to ensure staff are deployed in roles that support all of our customers is an important part of this.

Since the report was commissioned we have made progress: improving the ability for customers to travel unassisted and extending our Turn Up and Go service; introducing a national freephone number and a SMS service for deaf and hard of hearing customers to make it easier for them to book assistance via their text phone unit; and improving the information we provide at stations regarding disabled facilities. We are also working to improve the information we offer online, making it easier for customers to plan their journey and seeking to reduce anxiety which can be a barrier to travelling.

We have a number of projects in the pipeline which will make a real difference to the accessibility provision we offer customers. This includes the pilot of a universal access ramp for wheelchairs, which will fit most types of rolling stock, and which we hope can be rolled-out across stations if the pilot is successful.

We know that the availability of disabled toilets can be a cause of concern for our customers. We are looking at how we can tackle common issues relating to this and we are ensuring information on toilet facilities is available online and in the future via Customer Information screens at stations, before customers board a service.

Improving station accessibility is an important part of our work. Since the we commissioned the On Track for 2020? The Future of Accessible Rail Travel report, 20 stations have been renovated to meet full accessibility standards. Across the network we are budgeting more to focus on continuous improvement at stations – adding toilet facilities, hearing loops, and upgrading lifts. We also ensure that more of our lifts – essential for maintaining step-free access – are left operational outside staff hours.  

We will also pilot a new way of showing the inside of stations through apps and websites using a “street view” style approach – allowing our customers to plan their route through large and busy stations, ahead of their journey.

As the report highlighted, there is room for improvement on making ticket machines more adapted to the needs of disabled and older customers. Our ten point improvement plan for ticket machines has been endorsed by the industry and the Department for Transport and includes a mandate to work with the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee to understand how ticket machines can best be improved to suit the requirements of disabled customers. This forms part of a wider work to make buying train tickets simpler.  

We also know that the co-ordinated deployment of staff is essential for ensuring customers get assistance when they need it. It also plays a wider role in reducing anxiety. New technology plays an important part in ensuring we can have staff in customer-facing roles. It is good news for customers that companies are making safety-trained staff more visible and available on trains and at stations, with more time to dedicate to giving customers a better service including disabled customers or those in need of assistance. There has been very positive customer feedback about just such new staff roles on Southern Rail.

By harnessing modern technology and introducing smarter working, we are making train travel not just more accessible but more reliable and more comfortable.

The industry will meet its obligations under disability regulations. By 2020, franchised operating company rolling stock will be compliant. A small proportion of rolling stock (less than two per cent will remain outside this compliance, the vast majority of which being used by charter operators. We also anticipate reaching our goal for ensuring the vast majority of customers use step-free platforms. We are on course with the plan to see over 80 per cent of passengers enjoy fully step free access to platforms – since 2015 we have introduced 83 lifts across 40 stations.

We know that there is more work to do on ensuring customers with accessibility requirements can use the rail network with ease, comfort and confidence. To ensure we are meeting these requirements we have committed to working with disability groups now and for the future, and we will continue to strive to make improvements that will have a real difference to the experience of our customers.

RDG welcomes the opportunity for debate about service levels that customers, communities and businesses want from the railway.

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