After a long and gruelling journey from Penzance to the Midlands to attend a family funeral, a lifelong friend of our family was once again headed home. She booked a ticket and seat on the 2.47pm train from Tamworth to Penzance. Suffering from Parkinsons disease, she has restricted mobility and needs to be seated for the very long and tiring trip. According to Cross Country Trains passenger charter “We want you to enjoy travelling with us, from the moment you start to plan your journey to the time you reach your destination”. What happened today, completely contradicted this and in fact made all of the claims made by this charter seem like a cruel and distasteful joke.
Because of her disability she needs help boarding the train and getting to her seat with her luggage. Last time somebody helped her onto the train, the train doors shut on him and he was transported, against his will and with no ticket, to Birmingham from Leicester. This time, my sister assisted her onto the train and my Dad stood on the platform to make sure the train did not depart with my sister aboard. Our friend is a very proud lady and it is clear to see that she is not able bodied but this did not stop the ticket inspector from showering my sister and father with a tirade of verbal abuse for helping our friend onto the train. The train was already running late and he told them that passengers have less than one minute to board the train. Each minute that my sister had spent assisting our friend to her seat had apparently cost the rail company £200. Additional time had to be spent on the train by my sister because another passenger had sat in the seat that had been booked by our friend. When the train reached Birmingham, and it was five minutes late, the lateness was announced on the tannoy to all passengers, blaming ‘people for messing around on the platform at Tamworth’.
Can you imagine how this must have felt to any human being, let alone a grieving human being who used to be active and mobile and now needs help with getting herself seated on a train? I am disgusted and outraged, so I looked on the web and discovered that this inhumane treatment is actually illegal. The government gateway tell us that “trains have to be accessible to disabled people (including those in wheelchairs) to help them get on and off trains. This should also allow you to travel comfortably if you’re disabled.”. More detailed information here gives guidance to train operators and states that the Equality Act 2010 “allow the Secretary of State to make “rail vehicle accessibility regulations” to ensure that disabled customers can: – get on and off regulated rail vehicles in safety and without unreasonable difficulty”. Less than one minute to board is definitely “unreasonable difficulty” to a person with Parkinsons, and if the train had started to move when she was on her feet she would very likely have collapsed onto the floor.
The Department for Transport provided its own website and explains that:
- “Since 1996 it has been unlawful for service providers to treat disabled people less favourably than other people for a reason related to their disability.
- Since October 1999, service providers have been required to take reasonable steps to change practices, policies or procedures that make it impossible or unreasonably difficult for disabled people to use a service.”
Our friend was without doubt treated less favourably, and was publicly blamed at Birmingham for holding up a train that was already running late when she boarded.
I could go on, but if Crosscountry trains would like to study the law in more detail, they can find The Rail Vehicle Accessibility Regulations 1998 here and then justify why they have treated such a wonderful lady so very very shoddily.
Here is an e petition to help fight discrimination against disabled people on public transport.
UPDATE: 14th April 2012: on Thursday I had a rubbish tweet from them saying sorry and to contact their customer services. I replied that my Dad has already emailed them, and that in the circumstances, sorry wasn’t good enough. They did not reply to that.
My Dad emailed them and received an auto-reply 7 days ago now and has had no reply. Shocking.
UPDATE: months went by and he received the following reply and ONLY after the ombudsman had been involved. Cross country trains ignored all correspondence from my father. Shoddy, I think you will agree. The lady in question was offered ONE free journey as compensation for her many indignities. I am indignant on her behalf. Surely it is discriminating against the disabled if one has to phone a number just to be able to make the same train journey as everyone else? Shouldn’t she be able to travel freely, just like I could?
Dear Mr *****
Thank you for writing to us.
I’m very sorry for the length of time it has taken for you to receive a response regarding your complaint. Please accept my apologies for any inconvenience this may have caused.
Please let me assure you that we take these kinds of complaints very seriously and we always expect our on board staff to provide a high standard of service to all our customers.
I have made your comments available to the manager of the member of staff concerned and they have addressed this issue with them. They will be sure to point out any areas of performance that undermined what we try to achieve in terms of our service and hopefully ensure that this won’t happen again in the future. They have also provided some feedback regarding the incident you experienced.
In this instance the Train Manager was correct in advising you of the legal and financial ramifications for holding up a train. However, we would expect them to communicate this clearly and with courtesy, so I’m sorry if you felt his tone was aggressive in any way. The Train Manger states that he initially blew his whistle to indicate that the train was due to leave and request that all people stay clear of the doors. As you had decided to prevent the door from shutting he had to walk down the platform to investigate what was happening, all the while delaying the train further. Whilst I do appreciate that your daughter was attempting to assist her friend onto the train and locating her seat, we cannot accept individuals who are not travelling, holding up the trains departure. We as a company, along with the Train Manager as our representative on board, have a duty to try and ensure that passengers reach their destination on time. So, by preventing the door from closing you were further delaying the 250 other passengers who were on board.
Subsequently, and in line with our policy during a delay, the Train Manager made an announcement on board to advise passengers why the train had been delayed. Stating that it was because of a person holding open the doors which meant the train couldn’t leave. At no point was the phrase ‘messing about’ used.
As advised above, we can never condone people holding up our trains, regardless of the reason. But, if your friend is planning to travel in the future they may wish to consider booking Journey assistance. This can booked by calling the JourneyCare team on 0844 811 0125. They will take down details of the journey and the type of assistance that is required. Then, they will pass this on to the relevant stations so that their staff can provide this at each point on the day the passenger is travelling.
I’m afraid that in this instance, we would accept that the Train Manager acted appropriately considering the circumstances. As such, I’m afraid I would be unable to provide any compensation to you or your friend, nor the letter of apology you requested.
Once again, I am sorry if you feel this incident could of been handled differently and I hope this won’t deter you from travelling with us in the future.
Customer Relations Consultant