Daventry MP signs off on another delay to roll out of disabled access for rail replacement services

The scheme to make rail replacement services fit for everyone is now more than a year overdue.

By Alastair Ulke
Sunday, 10th January 2021, 6:00 am
Chris Heaton-Harris wrote he was "disappointed" at progress to roll out disabled access coaches for all rail replacement services.
Chris Heaton-Harris wrote he was "disappointed" at progress to roll out disabled access coaches for all rail replacement services.

Disabled train passengers have reacted with frustration at another nine-month extension to a promise to get all rail replacement services suitable for all.

Train companies will still be able to use rail replacement buses that are not fit for disabled users for another nine months, until September this year.

It comes after Daventry MP and Minister for Transport Chris Heaton-Harris last week signed off on a further temporary 'exemption' to disabled access laws - reportedly the fourth of its kind for the industry

However, railways were originally given just three months to get the issue sorted and a deadline of December 2019, after new legal advice in September that year.

Now, the latest wave-through means even if all services are compliant by September this year, the roll out will be 20-months overdue.

The extension has frustrated disable rail users. Daventry man and chair of Disabled Persons Against Cuts John Smith, 56, told the Chronicle & Echo: "It's another delay that makes you feel like a second-class citizen.

"As a wheelchair user, I've had to use rail replacement services myself. With no bus, you can wait a couple of hours for a taxi, and then the taxi is not always fit for disabled access either. This has happened a few times.

"We're equal citizens, and I think if they cannot provide a service then they should be fined. It should not be that difficult."

Currently, if an accessible rail replacement bus isn't available, disabled users must be given taxis or minibuses to continue their journey - but these can just as easily be late, unavailable, or unsuitable for their needs.

Northampton woman and wheelchair user Cara Miller-May also said: "It can be scary to take taxi when it isn't suitable for a wheelchair to stop it moving.

"Everyone has responsibility to make our world and our services accessible for disabled people, and progress shouldn't stop just because there's a pandemic."

It is understood that there are not enough compliant coaches available to meet requirements, and the ones available are firstly used for long-distance trips.

The newest exemption came in a letter from transport minister Chris Heaton-Harris to the rail industry, released by the government on 30 December.

It reads: "It is positive to see from your latest report that you and your members have again achieved high levels of compliance, but I remain disappointed with a situation where fully accessible vehicles cannot always be provided for all passengers using Rail Replacement services. Rail must be accessible to all."

It means operating companies will still be able to use old and non-compliant buses until at least September.

All such vehicles were supposed to comply with the regulations by 31 December 2019, more than a year ago.

Co-chair of Northampton Borough Council's disabled forum Phil Larrett said: "We're getting very close to the point where enough is enough.

"It will be just over 20 months late when it comes to September, and it could even go on longer."

Jacqueline Starr, Chief Executive Officer at the Rail Delivery Group, said: “We want everyone to have comfortable, dignified journeys on rail replacement services. The rail industry has led plans to maximise the limited availability of PSVAR compliant coaches, which are in short supply across the transport sector and are typically used on long distance rail replacement services.

"Train operators are working hard to procure PSVAR compliant coaches wherever possible, use available vehicles creatively to best meet customers' needs, and provide people with detailed information about all rail replacement services via National Rail Enquiries to help them travel with confidence.”