South Western Railway (SWR) faces prosecution if it fails to ensure that people using wheelchairs can board and alight at one of its Hampshire stations.
The regulator Office of Rail and Road (ORR) said it took action after it identified that SWR was failing to provide a boarding device, such as a ramp, at Liphook station where the gap between train and platform means passengers using wheelchairs cannot board or alight independently.
Liphook railway station, Hampshire cc-by-sa/2.0 - © Nigel Thompson - geograph.org.uk/p/3292846
It said this meant that ‘SWR is forcing passengers who use a wheelchair to travel to another station or to simply not use the train’.
Stephanie Tobyn, deputy director, consumers, said: ‘All passengers who need assistance to travel must be able to do so safely and with confidence.
‘Our recent updated accessibility guidelines set a benchmark for train and station operators to deliver better passenger assistance and we have seen improvements, but where this isn’t happening we will take action.
‘Helping wheelchair users to get on and off a train is a fundamental duty for a train operator and a vital service for passengers. That is why we’ve taken action to ensure SWR fulfils this essential accessibility standard.’
The ORR said trains using Liphook were designed and built with features to make them accessible to people with a wide range of disabilities. However, most stations on the network cannot provide level access at all platforms and in many cases a ramp or other boarding device is required for passengers using a wheelchair.
The regulator said it initially gave SWR time to put things right, but it ‘did not put in place clear time bound plans to address matters’.
It has now issued a formal Improvement Notice to SWR, requiring the necessary arrangements to be in place by May 2021. ‘Failure to comply with this improvement notice is an offence and could result in prosecution.’
The ORR said the deadline ‘acknowledges that the three options for compliance may take some time, particularly while COVID-19 controls affect resourcing levels’.
A spokesperson for SWR said: ‘We are committed to meeting the needs of all our passengers and work continually with partners to improve the accessibility of stations across our network.
'We have been liaising closely with the ORR to resolve the complex challenge provided by the narrow platforms at Liphook Station and are working hard to find a practical solution as soon as possible.’
Artist's impression of new bridge. Source: Network Rail
Separately, Network Rail has obtained planning permission for a new footbridge at the station, which would include passenger lifts. The works appear to have been funded outside the Access for All scheme, which would usually pay for step-free routes to platforms.
A Network Rail spokesperson told Transport Network: 'We plan to build a new bridge at Liphook station which will include lifts to enable all passengers to move between the platforms.
'During construction, the existing footbridge will remain open for passengers to use the station as normal. We’re aware of discussions between SWR and ORR about the wider accessibility challenges at the station, and continue to work closely with our industry partners to improve passenger facilities for all.'