Bedford train station staff have helped show special needs students how they can develop more independent lives through rail travel.
11 students from Central Beds College’s Pathways department took part in a ‘try a train’ day organised by Thameslink station managers at Luton Airport Parkway and Bedford.
Some of the students are autistic, some have Downs Syndrome while others experience acute anxiety.
Pathways provides independent living and community skills, which the ‘try a train’ days are part of, to help students get used to rail travel and how accessibility options in place can make travel easier for those with disabilities.
At the recent event, students were given a tour of Luton Airport Parkway station, where they were shown how to use the next train information boards and how to buy a ticket.
They then experienced travelling by train by boarding one of the regular rail services to Bedford.
Tutor at Central Beds College Nicky Noble said: “This shows our students they can access everything, there are no limitations. It’s giving them that choice.
“Some of our students will be able to travel on their own and this gives them the knowledge of how to plan their journeys, where they can seek assistance and then the confidence that they can actually do it.”
Teaching assistant Margaret Cootes was a companion to Charlie Cook, 17, and Jake Murray, 19.
Margaret added: “Travel broadens everyone’s horizons, especially after the pandemic; this is opening up the world again.”
More accessible railways
Accessibility Lead, Carl Martin, who works across Great Northern, Southern, Thameslink and Gatwick Express, is a wheelchair user himself and was also at the ‘try a train’ day.
He says it’s a priority to make railways more accessible.
“We recognise we are on a journey of improvement and the team I now work with has done so much to make things better,” he said.
“With one in five people having some form of disability, I want to build on that to help people gain independence through our rail service by highlighting the assistance we have available to remove those obstacles.”
Improvements to the network include:
- Training all 3,000 customer-facing staff in disability equality and accessibility needs, giving them skills to understand accessibility barriers some rail users may face.
- Reducing booking time for assistance. Passengers with accessibility needs can turn up at a station unannounced but pre-booking for assistance has been reduced to six hours before travel and will be reduced to two hours before travel in April 2022.
- Better ‘Turn Up & Go’ service for 41 smaller stations with mobile support teams reach unstaffed or partly-staffed stations across the network within 20 minutes to give assistance to passengers.
- A new National Rail app allows quick and easy requests assistance via smartphone without needing to contact a contact centre via phone or email
- Better detailed information about the accessibility of every GTR station on National Rail Enquiries and the websites of Great Northern, Southern, Thameslink and Gatwick Express
- Improvements on the Great Northern, Southern, Thameslink and Gatwick Express websites so they are easier for blind or visually impaired people to access and read
Carl, 41, who lost the use of his legs in a motorcycle racing crash five years ago, says public transport should be accessible for everyone.
“As someone who became a wheelchair user myself five years ago, I understand travelling on the railway as a non-disabled person and I’m now experiencing the challenges some of our customers face.
“It’s my next challenge to support changes to our infrastructure for permanent change, but also look at how our frontline colleagues can support accessibility now.
“They play such a vital role in delivering the service because the infrastructure changes won’t happen overnight, but how you’re treated while at a railway will make all the difference”.
To find out more about accessibility at Thameslink stations, head to their website.