We always welcome blog submissions – as long as we substantially agree with the content! This is a great article sent in by Brighton guards; it is written by a Disabled People Against Cuts activist who joined them on the picket line. The accessibility issue is beginning to receive the attention it deserves. GTR and the DfT must carry out a proper assessment of the impact axing the second safety critical staff member will have on passengers who require assistance, as recommended by the Transport Select Committee. Until then their ‘modernisation’ plans should be put on hold.

We encourage more people to join picket lines in future at Barnham, Brighton, Eastbourne, Horsham, Selhurst and Victoria Traincrew depots. Safety, Accessibility and Security on the railway isn’t just the guards’ fight, it’s everyone’s fight!  


btn-191016I’ve hit the RMT picket line outside Brighton Station, last week and then again this week. You may think that as a member of DPAC I’d have better things to do what with the continued pernicious WCA, the ongoing PIP roll out, the various other assaults on the dignity, independence and in some cases the very lives of the sick and disabled in this country by an invidious Government who prefer to make sure that the public purse supports the rich, the multi-nationals and the bankers who continue to rape, pillage and loot public services for private gain. With our NHS on the brink of collapse and doctors forced to work under unsafe working conditions thanks to the enforced introduction of a ludicrous contract putting patients and doctors, as well as other medical staff, in danger.

Yesterday I went to the Travel Centre at Brighton Railway Station and asked for the Station Accessibility Guide. I depend on a power chair to give me independent mobility. I often travel to various places and, like most people, these journeys aren’t always pre-planned. I thought it would be handy to have a leaflet to hand so if I decided that I wanted to go to St Helier to visit a friend I could just look at it to find out whether I can get off the train there … I’ve looked now BTW and for those who are interested, the answer is a resounding No! I can neither get on nor off a train there or any number of other places.

Bless the poor fellow I approached with my request. No, there was no Station Accessibility Guide however he could print one off for me. He pushed a couple of buttons, went to the printer and got me … a nice little print of Brighton Station showing me where the toilets, the benches and the step free entrances were. Thank you but no, that is not what I was after. I wanted to get a Station Accessibility Guide for all the stations on the Southern routes. You’d have thought there would be a leaflet but it seems that they no longer print them.

In fact the last time one printed was way back in 2012 as far as I know. He went to the back office, came back and told me he could print one off for me. He did. It wasn’t very clear as it was an A4 print of what was essentially an A3 map but the reading of it was even worse than the lack of clarity. The number of Stations that on the 19th of October 2016 are inaccessible for those needing assistance on and off the trains is frightening.

Here is a link for those who want to view the current Network Accessibility Map:

http://www.southernrailway.com/…/network_map_accessibility_…

I wasn’t really thinking of making public my reasons for attending Brighton Station, leaving my home at 6am to make my way there to join a load of guards picketing; to stand, or in my case sit, there for a few hours in the cold. But this changed my mind.

People need to know that this is about far more then who closes the doors on the train. This is about the safety and security of passengers and staff which is being sold out for the sake of increased profits for Capitalists who will continue to reap in profits … Southern Rail co-owner, Go-Ahead, reported profits of 100 million according to an article in BBC Business on 2nd September 2016 … while depending on subsidies from the Public Purse. The total subsidy to DfT franchised train operators was 5.7 pence per passenger mile in 2015-16, up from 5.6 pence per passenger mile in 2014-15 for those interested (source: Department for Transport dated 13th October 2016).

A couple of years ago I needed to get to Chester for a course I was to attend. It was quite a lengthy journey from my home in Brighton and so I planned ahead and made sure I contacted Assisted Travel well in advance of my prospective journey. In fact it was about a week or so before. As it happened, trouble started as soon as I arrived in Euston to get on my Chester bound part of the journey. I wasn’t on the list. Never mind, if I cared to wait someone would put me on the train. As an aside, no one saw fit to inform me that there was no refreshment trolley, that the wheelchair space was in full sunlight space with no room to move and that the canteen on the train was not accessible for lone wheelchair using travellers.

When we got to Chester, everyone alighted from the train and I waited for someone to fetch the ramp to get me off the train. The train started filling up with people London bound and I was still waiting. No one had seen fit to inform the driver, the conductor nor the destination station that a wheelchair passenger was on the train. I had to push the alarm to avoid being returned to London.
In January of this year I had an early appointment in London. I was quite ready to take a late train to London and spend the night at Victoria Station to make sure I’d get to my appointment on time. No need I was informed by the helpful staff at the Travel Centre at Brighton Station. There is a train at 6:48am that will get you there in plenty of time. I duly presented myself at Brighton station at 6am. I was assisted on to the train at 6:40am. At 6:50am the train was full to bursting with commuters and we were informed that we would be diverted via Lewes.

I decided to get off the train but, due to a lack of ramps, and the fact that the cover to the alarm button was locked, I was unable to contact the guard. To cut a long story short, I spent 2.5 hours being dragged through Lewes, to Haywards Heath to a field half way to Three Bridges where we sat for about 15 minutes before being told that we were being diverted back to Haywards Heath where I finally managed to get off the train. To get a train back to Brighton having totally missed my appointment. It took me a further 2 months to finally get someone in Southern Rail to address my complaint.

What happened was a lack of communications between the various bodies … In the first instance a failure by the Assisted Travel people to communicate with the appropriate station staff and then down the chain of command, for want of a better phrase; in the second instance, failure to communicate with the guard and failure to make the alarm button available to the disabled passenger. And yes in this case I was a disabled passenger and not just a wheelchair using passenger as I was disabled by the lack of access to an alarm button that would have alerted the guard to my existence.

Guards on the train do a lot more than merely ensure that the doors are shut. They are there to ensure that passengers are safe. If a passenger needs assistance to alight a train, if a passenger is harassed by a drunk on the train … what happens if a passenger suddenly gets taken ill or worse, what if the driver suddenly experiences a heart attack? It is the guard who will be able to ensure that the train does not run away with a load of hapless passengers by making it safe and ensuring that the powers that be stop any other trains from shunting into it causing a collision with all the consequences of a high speed collision.

And yes … on a purely personal basis, given the number of inaccessible stations already on the list of possible stops, these inaccessible stations will only increase with the removal of guards.

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