Network Rail has pledged to make it easier for disabled people to plan journeys and travel by rail after publishing research showing that a quarter of disabled passengers say they worry about their journeys.
The company, which owns rail infrastructure and manages many of the country’s major stations, has teamed up with comedian Francesca Martinez to launch a new campaign to improve disabled rail passengers’ experiences.
Mark Carne and Francesca Martinez
It said it is challenging the rail industry’s historic culture of treating accessibility as a “bolt-on”.
Network Rail cited research it commissioned showing that, of the 67% of disabled people who travel by train, 24% do not feel that their journey will be an easy one while 33% said they would use the train more if it were more accessible to them.
It said 63% of disabled passengers would feel confident using the rail network independently versus 79% of non-disabled people, while 58% believe accessibility across the rail network is improving.
Francesca Martinez said: ‘As a disabled passenger, I often feel as though my needs are invisible to the rest of society and that sometimes people like me are seen as a burden rather than as valued passengers. Most people consider taking the train just a part of everyday life, but there are millions of people like me who need to carefully plan their journeys so they can get around without difficulty.
‘This is why I am supporting Network Rail in its campaign to make the railway more suitable for the modern world and accommodating of every single passenger, regardless of their needs.
She added: ‘It’s really reassuring that the millions of disabled people in Britain are being considered right from the very start before rail projects leave the drawing board rather than being bolted on as they have been in the past, which will make a huge difference to their rail experiences in the future.’
Mark Carne, Network Rail chief executive, said: ‘We know it hasn’t been good enough in the past, and we need to make it easier for disabled people to plan journeys and travel by rail.
‘We are committed to changing this, and doing what is necessary to make sure that inclusivity is deeply embedded in our culture. Only then will our railway be a place where everyone can travel equally, confidently and independently.’
Network Rail cited examples of inclusive design being delivered across its stations, including an area at the recently rebuilt Birmingham New Street where guide dogs can ‘spend a penny’ and Reading station, where visually impaired people have the option of a special audio guide to help them navigate through the station and the town, under a partnership with Microsoft.