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East West Rail’s accessibility panel lists priority issues for disabled passengers

East West Railway Company’s Accessibility Advisory Panel (AAP) has drawn up a list of priority issues for train companies to address to ensure the varying needs of disabled people are fully met.

With latest figures showing that nearly one in four (24%) of people in the UK is disabled*, the AAP has highlighted key areas for improvement that address the needs of disabled people to be considered early in the design and construction stages so East West Rail (EWR) can be accessed and enjoyed by everyone.

The “must-haves” identified by the panel, which held its first meeting one year ago this month (17 April 2023) are focused on trains, stations and digital services. They include:

• Accessible toilets on trains and at stations, including Changing Places toilets

• Step free access to and through stations, including lifts, for people with mobility aids

• Level, unassisted boarding with minimal intervention

• Making timetables, information boards and social media content accessible for all

• Removing ticket barriers for disabled people, creating ease of access to the platform

• Removing the need to use an app to park – make displaying a Blue Badge sufficient

• Providing space on trains for two wheelchair users to travel together

• Making lighting more suitable for people with low vision

• Improving access to station staff who regularly receive disability training

• Providing a wide variety of seating styles with armrests

The AAP was set up in advance of trains operating on the first stage of EWR, from Oxford to Bletchley, in 2025 with panel members providing insights on the barriers to rail travel faced by local communities along the route and potential solutions to challenging issues.

The Panel is thought to be the first of its kind considering these issues in design at the outset of building a new railway and members believe it will help EWR Co deliver a truly accessible railway.

Joe O’Dwyer, from Cambourne, said: “When I first became disabled the first journey I had on an old British Rail train was in the guard’s van because the train wasn’t accessible to wheelchair users. The guard’s van was an old wooden dusty old unit that was essentially there to carry parcels. Back then it wasn’t even thought about making transport rolling stock accessible for disabled people, but I am sure East West Rail will use our advice sagely and provide the best equipped infrastructure railway service they can.”

Gary Dormer, from Halton, Buckinghamshire, said: “I’m severely sight impaired and when I’m going into stations or any buildings, I’m constantly looking at the ground or the access port. So, if there are glass doors, for example, I can literally walk straight through them which hurts. I was extremely pleased to be asked to be on the panel. I think that EWR is giving it the priority that it deserves to encourage people onto the networks where some other providers could learn lessons.”

Stephen Liney, from Wellingborough, said: “If East West Rail can begin to ask the questions to people with lived experience, then that leads the way for other organisations to follow and it’s a step forward for society to become more inclusive for disabled people and their requirements.”

Mary Doyle, Accessibility Advisory Panel Co-Chair and independent inclusive transport consultant, said: “By working with people directly you are hearing it from the horse’s mouth about how to make these things better and it sends a massively important message that we are passengers and we want to use the rail service like any person on the planet. The difference that we’ve experienced with East West Rail is that we are in at the grass roots level at the design and building phase of the entire project, so we’ve got the first opportunity in 200 years to really influence the positive outcomes and do it right.”

Georgina Taylor, Head of Customer Service Delivery, EWR Co, said: “We are determined to make sure that all customers have a fantastic experience by building a railway that meets different physical and mobility needs, as well as mental wellbeing and neurodiversity. The AAP’s priority issues list will help us better understand barriers to travel and how to overcome them, enabling us to be a beacon for inclusive rail design.”

*The Family Resources Survey shows that the number of disabled people in the UK has risen to 16.1 million (24%) in the most recent survey year, 2023.

PRESS RELEASE: provided by the Accessibility Advisory Panel for East West Railway Company (the new railway between Oxford and Cambridge)

Photo: Michał Parzuchowski on Unsplash

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