IM this article to a friend!

December 5, 2002

Disabled access: train firm may be sued

From: Norfolk Eastern Daily Press, UK - 05 Dec 2002


A disabled access campaigner left stranded on a Norfolk station platform is preparing to sue a rail company for discrimination.

Keith Roads, who has battled for more than 10 years for better disabled rail access, was stranded for more than an hour yesterday on one side of Thetford Station – because Central Trains could not provide access to the other platform.

Ironically, the incident happened only hours before details emerged last night of plans for a new Access for All fund, which is to be created by the Government's Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) to improve access for the disabled.

As a member – and current chairman – of the Norfolk Coalition of Disabled People, Mr Roads has fought for equal rights and equal access to public transport.

In April, he joined dozens of demonstrators at Thetford railway station, demanding access to platform one, which links the town to Norwich.

The station has a bridge with steep steps linking the two platforms and there is no wheelchair-friendly crossing.

Disabled passengers must travel half a mile around poor quality roads to gain access to the other platform, but without an accessible vehicle this is impossible.

The only alternative is a two-hour round trip to Ely and back, simply to cross the 10m divide.

Yesterday, Mr Roads was stuck on platform two for more than an hour without any means of getting across to catch his train.

"Without access to public transport there is a real risk that wheelchair users can become isolated and end up stuck at home," he said.

"Central Trains take the attitude that it is not their problem. But under the Disability Discrimination Act they are obliged to help me. It is disgraceful."

Two weeks ago, Mr Roads wrote to Central Trains to tell the company when he was travelling and what his requirements were, but it failed to organise transport, which he claims they are obliged to provide.

Mr Roads, who had to get a taxi to Norwich after Central Trains failed to supply transport, now plans to take the company to court to sue for discrimination.

His action will be backed by the Disability Rights Commission, whose spokesman Will Dingli said yesterday that the case was strong.

"Train companies should provide people with wheelchair accessible vehicles to get across or else install a ramp or accessible bridge," he said.

"This is a clear case of discrimination. So often disabled passengers are being treated as second class citizens."

Mr Roads said that disabled access groups had campaigned for too long without seeing many significant improvements.

"If this case is a success I hope it will inspire more people to take action against the train companies and fight for changes to be made," he said.

A Central Trains spokesman said that taxis from one platform to the other could be booked for disabled passengers.

He claimed special taxis for electric wheelchair users such as Mr Roads are not available.

However, after he failed to catch his train, Mr Roads managed to book a suitable taxi, which arrived in less than an hour.

Such access problems are not confined to Thetford.

Across the country, disabled passengers are limited to where they can travel and which stations they can use.

Wheelchair users at Watlington, near King's Lynn, have no way to board the train at their town's station.

At both Wymondham and Attleborough, wheelchair users encounter problems moving from one platform to another.

And the situation is similar at Brundall Gardens, near Norwich, and at nearby Buckenham Station where only one platform is accessible to the disabled.

All three rail companies that operate in Norfolk – Anglia Railways, WAGN and Central Trains – admit things must improve. while pointing to advances in access and services for the disabled in the last few years.

The Access for All fund, which is still at a very early stage of development, will be launched in 2004 and will create match-funding opportunities for rail companies to install lifts, ramps and other access systems.

A spokesman for Central Trains said: "There are 300 stations all over the country and most of them have been built in the 19th century and there is a lot more to be done.

"We have disabled toilets on the trains and hard of hearing and blind are helped as much as possible.

"If you are on the trains you are fine, but the train stations are going to take a lot longer to work out."

Copyright © 2002 Archant Regional. All rights reserved.