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Rail Stations: Disabled Access

Volume 617: debated on Thursday 17 November 2016

3. When he plans to announce the next tranche of railway stations to be provided with disabled access to all platforms; and if he will make a statement. (907294)

All the funding under the current pot of money for Access for All has been allocated to stations. We intend to seek further funding for the next rail control period. We will seek nominations from the industry and start to announce the successful projects in 2018.

Lichfield happens to be one of the smallest cities in the country, but Lichfield Trent Valley railway station is an important interchange between the west coast main line and the cross-city line that connects Lichfield with Birmingham and with Redditch. Yet two out of the three platforms are completely inaccessible to anybody who is disabled, or indeed anybody who has baggage with them and wants to get to one of those platforms. We were meant to get disabled access in October this year, so when is it going to happen?

I am glad that my hon. Friend shares my commitment to and passion for improving disabled accessibility. I understand that he has met Network Rail at the station to discuss its plans for the project. It intends to start work as soon as possible and it should take about a year to complete, so I hope it will been seen within a year. Network Rail should appreciate that Access for All projects are as important as any of its major prestige projects.

On Saturday there was a tragic suicide at Pencoed station in my constituency. One of the issues is that it has a level crossing, which is the only way in which disabled people are able to go between the lines. It is far too accessible in terms of the station lines, and there is a very high suicide rate. Network Rail has allocated funding via the Department for Transport to improve the level crossing, but I would like to see it closed. Will the Minister meet me to discuss additional funding to try to close off the access at that station?

I am always happy to meet hon. Members. I know that level crossing safety is a particular concern across the country. Every level crossing has its own characteristics and difficulties, so I am more than happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss this case.

There is obviously no cause for complacency in relation to disabled access, but it is worth putting it on record that in the past 15 years there has been a sea change on our railways; I certainly see that from a London and home counties perspective. While I hope that we can continue this progress on disabled access, substantial improvements have been made in recent years.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments. He is right to indicate the progress that has been made. However, we cannot accept a situation where some of our busiest stations remain inaccessible, so work will have to continue into the next rail period and beyond. I intend to keep up the pressure on Network Rail and train operating companies, as I am sure Members across the House will, too.

Despite the fact that so many disabled people rely on public transport, the Government have slashed the Access for All programme, which pays for improvements to access at stations, by 40%. Some 19% of stations currently have step-free access via lifts and ramps to all their platforms. Given that record, we can hardly describe ourselves as an inclusive society when so many stations are inaccessible to disabled people. What representations will the Minister make to the Chancellor ahead of the autumn statement to address that appalling state of affairs?

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman also shares my commitment to the issue. We have made important progress in delivering improved accessibility at many of our busiest stations, but there is still more to do. I will not pre-empt the autumn statement, however much he might like me to do so, but I will seek more money for Access for All in control period 6 of our rail investment. That will deliver far more accessibility at far more stations.