In 2019 there has been a greatly increased awareness about how difficult it is for disabled passengers to use the railway independently. Much of this challenge is because the gap between the train and the platform can vary hugely. This results in confusion for station and train staff and frustration (or worse) for disabled passengers.
However, the problems of a big gap at platforms doesn’t just cause misery for disabled people – it impacts on everyone. Accidents at the interface between the train and the platform edge have been increasing over the last decade, and this risk is the only one on the railway that is getting measurably worse over time.
There are operational impacts, too. The use of platform ramps increases the workload of railway staff, and increases the time that a train is sat at a station.
The solution is not technically complex, and is well-understood. In the UK, Merseyrail has completed a programme of platform renewals, setting platforms to the standard Network Rail position. They have also procured a new train fleet that has a floor level that meets this standard position, with an extendible step that minimises the resulting gap.
Such a programme of works can be achieved at a national level, too. ProRail (the rail infrastructure manager in the Netherlands) have committed to providing level boarding at all of their stations by 2030.
The Campaign for Level Boarding, and its associated All-Party Parliamentary Group for Accessible Transport aims to raise awareness about the solutions to these challenges, and press for action from the rail industry and the politicians who steer it.
The campaign has three main asks:
1. That all new rolling stock is to be procured with a sliding step and floor to match the standard platform height/offset.
2. A rolling programme of platform adjustments, bringing all GB platforms into compliance with the standard Network Rail platform position (an offset of 730mm and a height of 915mm).
3. An end to derogations from platform train interface standards, and adoption of the more rigorous Rail Vehicle Accessibility Regulations (RVAR) standard for all new Network Rail projects.
The industry faces many pressures on its finances. However, if the Department for Transport followed its own rules on allocating money to reduce risk, it would be spending up to £770m a year on making the platform train interface safer.
The stakes couldn’t be higher, either: people’s lives are on the line.
The Campaign for Level Boarding will aim to raise awareness about the importance of designing and building the railway system for level boarding, in terms of both the operational and capacity benefits, but most importantly from a safety perspective.
Dr Jon Hastie, chair of the Campaign for Level Boarding, said:
“As a disabled passenger, travelling by rail means planning well in advance and dealing with frequent problems when staff are unprepared or poorly trained in providing a ramp. It’s a constant source of worry that puts many off travelling altogether. We know how to provide independent travel to disabled people, but without concerted action we will continue to lag behind what many other countries now offer.”
Alan Benson, campaign member and chair of Transport for All, said:
“It’s absurd that we continue to buy and run trains that embed dependency and risk in their design. Disabled people want to travel independently where possible. Level boarding not only brings that ideal closer but it makes everyone’s journey easier and safer. This is a win for everyone.”
Gareth Dennis, campaign member, supporter and railway engineer, said:
“The railway industry and the Department for Transport have waited too long to take action to resolve the risks at the platform train interface. Not only does this mean that disabled passengers – or indeed those with buggies or luggage – have a dreadful experience when getting on or off trains, but we are risking people’s lives for the sake of not setting that interface to a set of rules agreed long ago. I don’t think it is unreasonable to aspire to solve that problem.”