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Rail: Accessibility

Volume 619: debated on Thursday 12 January 2017

8. What progress is being made on ensuring that trains and stations are fully accessible to disabled people. (908123)

We are committed to improving accessibility on the rail network. Roughly 70% of train fleets operating passenger services currently meet modern accessibility standards, with work on the remaining vehicles due to be completed by 2020.

A moment ago, I was engrossed in the answer to the question asked by my neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), as that issue also affects my constituency. I very much hope that we make progress on the Lawrence Hill and Stapleton Road stations.

On accessibility on trains, the Minister will be aware of the recent case of the Team GB Paralympian, Anne Wafula Strike. It was very brave of her to come forward and speak about what must have been a humiliating experience when no disabled-access toilet was available on the train. What is the Minister doing to ensure that situations like that do not occur and that disabled people are treated with respect?

I am glad that the hon. Lady brings up that case. I am sure she shared the same sentiments that I am sure every Member felt on reading that story: it was simply unacceptable. We have made it clear to CrossCountry, through officials, that it was not good enough, and I will reiterate that when I next speak to the company. More importantly, I want to ensure that we meet our target of every rail carriage, including the toilets, being fully accessible by 2020. In situations in which the accessible toilet is out of order, for whatever reason, either that carriage must be taken out of service or, if that would have unacceptable service consequences, any individual on the train who might need the accessible toilet must be made aware of the situation before boarding and thereby have the chance to make alternative arrangements.

Money was secured more than three years ago for step-free access, not only for disabled people but for all people, at Garforth train station. Network Rail has been stalling and delaying. I have secured a commitment to the printing of a poster advertising that the work will happen by May, but may I urge my hon. Friend to speak to Network Rail to get the work done as soon as possible? The money has been in place for three years; delays are not necessary.

I am more than happy to discuss the matter further with my hon. Friend. My initial understanding at this stage is that the works at Garforth, as indeed with many on the trans-Pennine routes, are interlinked with the upgrades we are planning on the trans-Pennine network. I am happy to have a further discussion with him.

Last Friday, a disabled wheelchair user, Sandra Nighy, on Southern was left stranded on the train platform in the freezing cold for two hours because there was no one to help her on to the train despite booking assistance 48 hours in advance. She was on an unmanned station, and the trains that passed her by were driver-only with no on-board supervisor. The law is absolutely clear: train operating companies must provide reasonable access for disabled passengers. Does the Minister agree that the failure to do so strips disabled passengers of their dignity and of their right to travel and breaches the Disability Discrimination Act 1995?

I am glad that the hon. Lady raises that case. When I heard about it, my interpretation was that, in this case, Southern had not applied the policies that it said were in place for all disabled passengers. The issue is that the situation was far worse because the lady in question booked through Passenger Assist, so the company had plenty of notice that she was on her way. However, under the unions’ proposals, that train would have been cancelled in the first place and unable to depart.

Access for so many disabled and particularly elderly passengers is dependent on advice that can be had from ticket offices. In that respect, can the Minister give me any reassurance about proposals to close the ticket office in God’s own town of New Milton?

I am not specifically familiar with proposals in New Milton. But I see no reason why we should have fewer people employed in our stations over the coming years, but the roles that they discharge need to be broadened out to involve helping more passengers, not fewer.