Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) is on track to deliver a raft of upgrades across the network by March 2019 through its stations accessibility fund to improve access for all passengers, marking the commitment on International Day of Persons with Disabilities.
As part of the rail operator’s ‘Minor Works’ fund – an annual fund which the organisation dedicates to enhance stations with physical improvements to make stations more accessible – passengers across the network will benefit from upgrades including step-free access, ramps, accessible toilets and double-height handrails.
Projects on track for delivery by March next year include:
- a wide aisle ticket barrier at Battersea Park
- an accessible toilet at Carshalton; tactile tread added to the stairs at Dorking
- automatic door entry to the ticket office at Rye
- step-free access to the waiting room at Seaford
Ahead of the completion of these projects to improve station accessibility, 78% of GTR stations currently have some form of step-free access, with 58% of stations fully step-free.
International Day of Persons with Disabilities is a day of observance promoted by the United Nations to increase understanding, public awareness and acceptance of people with disabilities and celebrate their achievements. The theme for 2018 is ‘Empowering persons with disabilities and ensuring inclusiveness and equality’.
GTR invested more than £8 million in station improvements across the network in 2018. Projects by ‘Minor Works’ included:
- the addition of accessible toilets at Sandy, Shoreham, Queens Road Peckham and Hitchin
- a new ramp providing step-free platform access at Hadley Wood
- tactile platform edges and the fitting of an induction loop at City Thameslink
- step removal between the waiting rooms and platforms at Stevenage
- a raft of other improvements across the rail operator’s route
As part of the Thameslink Programme, platform humps have been added to stations between London Bridge and St Pancras giving level access to the train for easier alighting and embarking from services for passengers using wheelchairs and scooters. Gatwick Airport Station and Gatwick Airport were recently highly commended under the Project of the Year award at the Global Air Rail Alliance Awards for becoming the UK’s most accessible airport.
Antony Merlyn, Accessibility Manager for GTR, said: “We are committed to make our network as accessible as possible; the railway and the potential that it brings should be open to all. These station enhancements complement a range of support tools available for customers, as well as our Assisted Travel team who handle an average of 1,000 bookings each week, with many more passengers travelling unbooked. The projects currently under way will support our ultimate goal of providing everyone with the confidence to access our network.”
GTR has also recently updated its safety guidance for people using wheelchairs and mobility scooters across the network to better support this group of passengers.
Other initiatives are available for people with additional needs, including the popular ‘Try a Train’ trips which take groups out on the network to increase their confidence when travelling independently by train.
Kelvin Lindsay, Community Skills Project Manager at specialist support provider, County Care, said: “We have been working with GTR for a number of years, offering support and guidance on accessibility improvements for passengers that need additional support. As well as physical changes to stations, the addition of the communication guides have had a huge impact; it gives people with disabilities or those who may need extra support the confidence to ask for help without having to explain their needs every time they travel, meaning that many are not afraid to travel by train anymore – it has given them real independence.
“We have also been working with GTR on various projects to help people with learning difficulties feel more confident and capable of using the train network. We have become station partners at Horley and Reigate where we look after the flower beds to make them look nice for commuters, and participate in the ‘Try a Train’ events as part of our Community Skills Project.”
Govia Thameslink Railway works closely with its Access Advisory Panel (AAP) and other stakeholders for advice on policy and support for disabled passengers and when considering upgrades to stations, new directives and guides for travel support, to ensure that the projects maximise accessibility of our stations, as well as taking on suggestions from the AAP to implement.
Earlier this year, working with the panel, GTR released a series of communication and travel support documents to make it easier for people travelling on the network that have additional needs. Available at stations across the network, the Travel Support Card is for passengers to show to rail staff which features a “How you can help me” space to explain the support they need, and further spaces for journey details and emergency contacts. The Accessibility Communication Guide is a pictorial guide that makes it easier for GTR customer service staff and passengers to communicate.
Members of the AAP contributed to the design of the new aids and welcomed the innovations. AAP member Fiona Bower, who uses a wheelchair and an assistance dog, said at the time: “There have been many times when I was so tired on the way home that I needed such supportive material to ensure I got home safely. They give people confidence and peace of mind, and reduce anxiety when words don’t come out well.”
GTR also issues Priority Seating cards and ‘Baby on Board’ badges to help the passengers most in need to secure a seat. These are available from each GTR website.