After a tragic loss of life at Eden Park station in south east London, Clive Wood, lead regional policy and campaigns manager for Guide Dogs, calls on all transport operators and authorities to act on tactile surfaces.
An increased focus on accessible train stations and rail travel over the last 30 years has allowed more disabled people to live active and independent lives. But nearly half of all British train stations are leaving blind and partially sighted people exposed to an obvious and preventable danger.
Clive Wood and guide dog Winnie
Tactile surfaces are offset rows of flat-topped domes in the paving that act as a warning system to inform blind and partially sighted people they are close to the platform edge.
They are a key safety feature to enable independent travel. Platforms without this safety feature put people with sight loss at risk and prevent them from accessing train travel with confidence.
The Department for Transport (DfT) and the rail industry at large say that tactile paving is a key feature in both keeping blind and partially sighted people safe and allowing them to travel independently.
Yet, according to DfT data, 49% of train stations in Great Britain have either no, or only partial, tactile surfaces on operational platforms.
The urgent need for tactile paving to be introduced across the rail network has been highlighted once more with the recent publication of the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) report into the accident at Eden Park, last year.
On 26th February 2020, at just after 7pm, a passenger train struck and fatally injured a person with sight loss who had fallen from the platform at Eden Park station. The platform was not fitted with tactile paving and sadly, Cleveland Gervais fell from the platform edge.
While the RAIB’s investigation does not establish blame, liability or carry out prosecution, it makes clear the lack of tactile on the platform was a contributing factor in this accident.
The report makes a number of very clear recommendations to the rail industry to address this dangerous situation, and while these recommendations are welcome, this should have happened a long, long time ago. Tactile surfaces should already be on every train platform in the UK.
Currently the rail industry does not even have to consider installing tactile surfaces at a station until ‘major work’ is carried out. The DfT and the rail sector cannot provide a definitive answer to what ‘major work’ constitutes, but what work could be more major than keeping all passengers and especially those with sight loss safe?
Various guidance has been issued for over 30 years but we’re not seeing progress quickly enough and people’s lives are at stake.
Eden Park station - without tactile surfaces
The rail industry must take responsibility for keeping all its customers safe, and the DfT must take the lead and introduce a programme to introduce tactile surfaces at every train station in the UK within five years.
In the meantime, more information is needed to keep blind and partially sighted people safe.
Information on tactile surfaces should be as prevalent as information on step-free access. People with sight loss should be able to get information online, over the phone and at stations. Rail staff need to be able to provide information to blind and partially sighted people so they know about the platforms, and whether or not they have tactile.
Accessibility means someone with a disability can travel independently and with confidence. People with sight loss have waited 30 years for emergency measures that are needed now to make all stations safe.