/ Travel & Leisure

Are train companies doing enough to help disabled passengers?

As we all know, being a passenger on some of the UK’s trains can be tough. But what’s it like if you’re disabled as well? Our guest Hollie-Anne Brooks gives her experience.

This is a guest post by Hollie-Anne Brooks. All views expressed are her own and not necessarily those also shared by Which?.

Which?’s TrainPain campaign has been highlighting and protesting against mistreatment of passengers for years: from frequent delays, to rip-off prices, to a lack of visible communication about your consumer rights. But how does travelling as a disabled passenger fare?

After recently falling ill with meningitis, I’ve gone from being an every day commuter to a wheelchair user who cannot get out much.

Over the past month, I’ve faced shocking treatment on trains that has now stopped me from travelling alone – something no-one should ever feel scared or intimated to do.

The situation’s gotten so bad, I’ve taken to filming and speaking out in public against Greater Anglia’s patronising and discriminatory behaviour to highlight an issue that I believe is sadly happening across the UK.

Wheelchair access

Just the other day, a Greater Anglia train from Norwich to Colchester saw my designated wheelchair space used as a catering cart and tea and coffee served from it.

Instead of the space I requested, which allowed my boyfriend to assist me, I was placed in an unsafe spot with boxes of food and water piled up by my feet – blocking my ability to alight from the train.

Part of the problem for disabled passengers is the fact that you have to pre-book every bit of assistance around 24 hours before you travel, taking away any sort of spontaneity.

With different rail companies across the UK having different processes and ways of booking, assistance is already a struggle before you start. And the reality is, it’s hit-and-miss whether you’ll even be provided with it.

Left stranded

Another ever-present risk is that there won’t be a ramp ready at your arrival station – and you’ll be left on the train unable to get off.

This has happened to me in the past, and I’ve had to ask members of the public to step in and jam doors open so the train can’t leave until a member of staff has sorted a ramp for me.

This is clearly unacceptable and a constant and very real worry for disabled passengers.

Getting on the train often isn’t much easier. Recently a train left without me because waiting for my wheelchair ramp would have caused the already late-running train to be even later.

I had to watch as those who could easily walk onto the train got on and set off on their journeys as I was left crying on the platform, my pre-organised trip ruined. All this despite double checking about assistance and being on time.

Speaking out

So, what’s to be done? Complain to staff members at the stations and, in my experience, it falls on deaf ears – there’s a palpable lack of awareness about the problems disabled passengers face. Maybe this is down to a lack of staff training by rail companies.

If you make a formal complaint to the rail company then I’ve found you can expect to wait a while for a reply that feels like a copy and paste, blaming staffing or signalling issues.

But if enough of us are vocal on this issue, we can make change happen.

If you see a disabled passenger having difficulty on a train, or trying to board or alight from one, contact the rail company and your local MP and let them know how unhappy you are at their treatment of disabled passengers.

Raising awareness

If it’s happening to you, shout about it. If you’re able to film incidents on a smartphone, do it. Complain to your train provider and, from November, take it to the rail ombudsman if you’re not happy with the response.

Speak to your local MP and, if you think a law has been broken, use the government’s Equality Advisory Support Service for more information.

Finally, share your stories – whether you’re a disabled passenger or not. The more we speak, the louder we’re heard – if not by the train companies themselves then by government and its regulators.

Have you encountered similar problems using trains as a disabled passenger? How could rail travel be improved for those with access needs?

This is a guest post by Hollie-Anne Brooks. All views expressed are her own and not necessarily those also shared by Which?.

We offered Greater Anglia a Right of Reply to Hollie-Anne’s experience. A Greater Anglia spokesperson said:

“We’re sorry that Hollie’s recent travel experience has not been as easy as we would like it to be. We have offered to meet her so we can apologise personally and discuss how we can help her to travel by rail more easily. We are waiting to hear from her.

“Meeting Hollie would give us the opportunity to clarify what happened on the journeys that she complained about via social media and through the press.

“We have around 76,000 journeys a year on our trains where passengers require assistance. The vast majority of these journeys go smoothly.

“We work closely with a group of disability professionals and disabled people to review incidents such as Hollie’s.

“Hollie has on occasions been caught up in disruption, when trains have been cancelled, most recently due to signalling problems. Greater Anglia staff have on every occasion, made sure that Hollie is helped on and off trains and continued to her home station by taxi and on one occasion by bus, when a member of staff accompanied her.”

Do you feel that access for disabled passengers is improving?
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H.Jones says:
21 September 2018

I have had to have assistance due to mobility and health problems for some years. My experience has been both good and bad. London (Paddington )and Birmingham New Street stand out as being extremely knowledgeable and helpful and willing to deal with your needs when advance notice is short. There are times when things go wrong and a vital element is missing or yo miss a train and have to wait,

I would suggest the following need specific attention:-

Better access on and off trains -why not a disabled carriage ( inc. helpers)
More training for helpers in stations. – Some regularly run and for the chair occupant this can range from mildly amusing to terrifying when approaching an obstacle 0r painful with certain conditions.

Better communication facilities – not all wheelchair users are able to use a mobile phone or text.
If a male colleague happens to be with you he is addressed as the person in charge – this regularly happens when I travel with a member of the same committee.

Toilets. More disabled toilets especially on trains and on platforms. A little more dignity than unlockng the door in full view of all passengers and the pusher having to stand outside waiting.

For the traveller I would say have patience, thank your helpers with a smile and do not hesitate to draw the attention of the providers to any problems. Carry on the good work.

A regulator would be a good and effective idea and all this should not only be for the disabled but the elderly and possibly an adult travelling with small children. What about a nursery area for prams and suitable facilities.

Thats not going to help handicapped people be treated better by train companies , the “god ” thats running this world now is Beelzebub . It stops the poor from getting help or the handicapped by diverting them from taking real action to overcome those oppressing them , the praying is over , has it stopped never-ending wars for economic domination ? -no chance it just makes them more autocratic and keeps the war industry well fed while keeping the public under subjugation . Have you checked the latest budget for the US military machine ? while denying US vets free hospital treatment . You got a new god right – WordPress but its not as bad as the other big names , that’s who gets worshiped now Steve .

Sheila Evans says:
22 September 2018

I think the way Hollie-Anne was treated was totally disgraceful. I hope her meeting will be with someone high up in Greater Anglia, and not some unfortunate duty minion, so that her comments and complaint can be acted upon to ensure any future journeys are much better. It was wrong to leave her behind with the feeble excise of not wanting the train to be delayed. Of course, we all know why they didn’t want the train to be delayed: because then the company would be liable for paying compensation to every passenger who might put in a complaint re late running. Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer, Hollie-Anne. You made all the correct arrangements, it was the train company which let you down so badly.

I can’t understand how Grayling? can have the gall to say that he’s going to sort things, he’s supposed to be in charge of transport, he should be sacked. If I had done my job as badly as he has I would have been long gone, he’s a typical Tory “It’s not my fault” This also shows why the staff at Northern are taking action against driver-only trains. Who will assist the disabled, or any passenger now?

Ah – Beelzebub: Lord of the Flies and high up in Hell’s management structure. Led a management buy-out against Lucifer, according to Weyer, but he may well have simply been misunderstood. Pretty demanding job running the Underworld, I’d have thought.

Thats the problem Ian he isn’t the Lord of the Underworld , he is “lord ” of this world , hence all those never-ending wars but hey ! why should I criticize a very highly profitable industry for both countries , it gives employment to many , hence carrying out the “lords ” work.

The original post is promotional and should be reported. It’s also off-topic.

Had you this in mind? “Along with the Cardiff-based brewery’s bar another new craft beer hub … Beelzebub’s will have ten local beers from Crafty Devil and fourteen ….

I like the idea of Anglia trains having slide-out ramps. We need a process that keeps the trains running to time – see “Update: train pain – our railways are stagnating while prices soar” – otherwise we” continue with complaints, and ways to efficiently help the disabled. It requires cooperation from both sides. I don’t think we should refer to “train hell” in case……..

Taking lessons from Stephen KIng malcolm ?–and after drinking the beer you go through a tunnel and arrive at “Hell Street Station ” where you get a fiery reception and “demon ” baggage handlers who give you a right “roasting “..

Obviously the ‘three reports and its removed for moderation’ policy works but it’s left a trail of irrelevant comments behind which should also be removed or edited. Their continued presence in a serious Conversation on an important matter for disabled people is unfortunate and a bit of an embarrassment. There must be a better way of dealing with inappropriate comments. Not adding to them would be a good start. Closer attention by the author might be another approach but that would not apply in this case where the Conversation is authored by a guest; perhaps a member of the editorial team should shadow guest Conversations to keep out religious or promotional matter and stop further posts in response to them.

Apologies to Hollie-Ann Brooks for letting her excellent contribution go off the rails.

Look John I agree with you I only posted them because of the Religo/political advertising . I come across that a lot in America and its used there to stop the American public (poor ) complaining of their living conditions -IE- turn to God and “forget ” complaining . Its big business paid there as its in their interests .

I don’t know why somebody gave you the thumbs down for your post Duncan. Anyway, it’s gone now.

My comment was more of a suggestion for the future than any criticism of the posts that appeared here. It’s an easy trap to fall into – to respond to an inappropriate comment. I’ve done it, and once a side shoot starts growing there’s no knowing where it will end up.

Iv complained about the service train companies give and just got fobbed off nothing will change the trains brought back into public ownership these franchises are only interested in making profits for it’s shareholders it’s profit before service

IAN DYER says:
22 September 2018

This is why there is an absolute need for guards on trains – i.e the Northern Rail disputes.

Ian Millington says:
22 September 2018

I would direct you to the National Pensioners Convention leaflet called ‘Three on a Train’ It highlights the experiences of three commuters with various disabilities who took a Southern Rail journey. You will find many other examples of the appalling treatment that disabled commuters receive. It is more endemic than the rail companies admit.

Mrs Geraldine H Taylor says:
22 September 2018

I am having trouble getting disalbed rail card – they seem to be only for deaf people. I have fused discs in my lower back and an ‘Exeter Hip'( from birth no hip socket on one side, now have a plate fixed by screws to what is left of my pelvis) meaning I have trouble getting in amd out of trains and the seats and have trouble when taking luggage with me. I now may be able to get a rail card as my NHS audiology department has kindly released the results (signed by the adiologist) of my hearing test. This was necessary as most NHS audiology department do not issue hearing aid battery books (copy of which is required by the issuing card department of the rail network) now as you turn up to the hospital desk, give your name and details and you receive the batteries. Due to a neuroma which was removed years ago, I am also deaf in the opposite ear to my hearing aid ear; this is total and I have never been able convince the rail card people I am disabled! I get very little help from rail staff on board trains and if I explain my disabliities they don’t seem to care, even if someone who doesn’t need the disabled seat in a carriage is sitting there.

What can be done? I wonder if the Department of Transport has anyone who is disabled on their staff, who could tell them the difficulties people have. Doubtful – even if we all wrote or had a campaign I still doubt they would take much notice.

For those in Geraldine,s position click on https://www.disabledpersons-railcard.co.uk/using-your-railcard/how-to-apply/ then click on ELIGIBLE plenty of info that should help many.

Ilana Richardson says:
22 September 2018

None of this is new to me. I have been in a wheelchair for years, and my fear of getting stranded without a ramp has stopped me travelling by train. As a woman you are more vulnerable and less likely to be assertive.

I am glad you said that Ilana in this nwo if I said that as a man I would be torn apart . I believe in honesty and to me it does females a disservice in that all females are not of the forceful type as are some men . I believe in protecting women , again that goes against current social policy in this country but I would protect females even if I was booed for it or criticised . I will await the criticism . You have my deepest sympathy and if I was there I would help you on a train and get another male to help you .

I agree about pre-arranging assistance. I have a hidden disability, but when I booked assistance last year, everything went well until I had to change trains at Liverpool Lime Street. I was informed by staff from Trans Pennine Express that they could not take me down to the Merseyrail platform as the train service was provided by a different operator. My return journey was no better as I was assisted off the Merseyrail train to be met by a member of staff who promptly asked another passenger to show me to the lift. There was no-one to meet me at the main line station. My assistance to the Newcastle train finally turned up with just minutes to spare, and I struggled to keep up with him as he hurried to get me onto the train.

Compare this with the service I received at Newcastle Central Station. I was met from a Northern Rail train by a member of Virgin East Coast staff, taken to the First Class Lounge then collected and assisted onto the Trans Pennine Express Train to continue my journey. On my return I was again met by a member of Virgin East Coast Staff and taken to the platform to await the local train. She was called away, and asked a colleague who was travelling home on the same train, to look after me. As she was alighting at the stop before me, she asked the guard if he would assist me at my local station, which he willingly did. Why can’t all rail companies co-operate like this!

Allan Carter says:
23 September 2018

My local station, Sudbury Hill Harrow when constructed by the former Great Central Railway Co Ltd., in about 1905 1906 had ramps between street (Greenford Road) and platform levels. One was constructed of wood and the other was a hard surface. The successor, the Ministry of Transport (now of course the Department of Transport) found the wooden ramp was rotting and to ‘save money’ replaced both ramps by a metal staircase. This ‘reconstruction’ was carried out in the 1970s when they downsized both station and railway line.

Dave H (@BCCletts) says:
24 September 2018

The Glasgow operators (Caledonian/Glasgow & South Western) were also building and upgrading railways in the early 1900’s, and designed with a clear understanding of how to move people efficiently with large circulation spaces and ramped access, albeit to a slightly steeper standard (1:12) than that currently endorsed. The folly of many closures – stations better located and with ramped access for every station was scandalous. Just as the closure of the high speed line between London and Birmingham, with its extension to Sheffield Leeds and Manchester which as you note, opened in 1906 whilst Grayling’s predecessor kept punting the complete fallacy that there had been no main lines built for 120 years barely 100 years after this route, and the GWR fast route to the West Country (Westbury-Taunton) were completed and opened.

Opportunities are missed too though local planning both lacking vision & being spineless to force abutting developers to maintain or deliver access. At one location the develope had to shift well over 1000 tons of site clearance/road building spoil which cost them money to haul and tip, when that material could have been moved across the street to build a ramp to the still step-only platform, greatly reducing the cost of providing the basic earthworks.

steven hearne says:
23 September 2018

Nationalised Network Rail bad enough staffed with hugely overpaid senior staff who never use the rail themselves.Three privatised Rail company franchises have now gone resulting in
more costs.No wonder more people are back on the roads due to rail strikes,timetable chaos and sky high fares .

Yes, it’s curious given the track record of Network Rail, the abdication of responsibility by Department for Transport which actually micro-manages the railway system in Great Britain, and the behaviour of the trade unions that have inflicted their own special and extremely disruptive form of inconvenience on the weary passengers, that people are clamouring for re-nationalisation.

The only part of the passenger railway system that is not under direct or indirect government control is the actual running of the trains. Where they go, where they shall call, what times the earliest and last trains shall leave, what the fares and tickets structure should be, and on some new trains the detailed design of the seats, are all determined by the DfT.

It is also arguable that the DfT has caused the collapse of franchises [certainly the Virgin East Coast contract earlier this year] by forcing companies to bid unrealistic and unsustainable amounts of premium in order to acquire the franchises. The DfT also failed to ensure that the route upgrade works to allow more and faster trains between London and Edinburgh, promised in the Invitation to Tender, were delivered thus depriving the operator of the revenue forecast in their bid.

DerekP says:
23 September 2018

John, I think a lot of the current failures arise because the commercial franchises need to run at a profit, so they cannot always consider the greater good of providing a key national infrastructure to get folk where they need to be when they need it.

With the industry currently split between Government overlords and private contractors, when problems arise, it becomes all too easy to waste time apportioning blame, instead of owning and fixing problems.

Hence the attraction of bringing all of the railways constituent businesses together into a single entity, to act with common goals and purpose, is obvious to many.

I believe standard franchise lengths are 10 years. Not long when you have to decide on and arrange a major investment, put it into operation, then recover the costs. The franchise should be for longer, providing there are termination terms for failed performance. Much of the blame lies with the inability of governments to properly deal with such contracts, and political motivation. In my view.

Derek – I am responding to your comment above in the Conversation Update: train pain – our railways are stagnating while prices soar.

The link to that Conversation and comment is –

A. J. CRAWSHAW says:
26 September 2018

Have just travelled in a French TGV. I was in the ‘designated’ coach. 2 disabled passengers were also travelling:one with her mother, the other alone in a wheelchair.
The floor of the entrance to the compartment acts as a lift -up to platform height, down for the lower carriage level (double-decker train).
A ramp is on-board (special cupboard) so always ‘to hand’.
Assistance is still needed to help with the process but everything is ‘ready and waiting’.
The space allows for someone in a wheelchair to remain in the chair while their companion has a seat.
The two passengers were at the limit of provision, another such carriage would have helped, especially in these times of greater mobility for all.
Surely an on-board ramp ought to be standard?

Jamie Thunder says:
27 September 2018

Hi Hollie (and others)

If it’s not come up already, I thought you might be interested to see what Liverpool City Region is doing. It’s buying Merseyrail’s new rolling stock itself rather than leasing it, which gives them control over the design – and as part of that, the new trains will stop right up against the platform (so no vertical or horizontal gap). As well as being safer, it means that the platform to train accessibility issue is solved.

(I don’t know what Merseyrail’s *station* access is like – and its forthcoming better train access is in part easier because it’s a closed network, so there aren’t lots of different platform sizes / heights etc to contend with)


Good to hear from you, Jamie! Hope you’re well. Thanks for sharing 🙂

As I couldn’t find a relevant convo this one relates to handicapped people that I thought it was relevant . I have just renewed my Blue Badge in relation to my wife and found there is a difference between English regulations and Scottish ones . In England you are provided with a cardboard card with a set time of arrival with a 3 hour window , not so in Scotland where nationwide (with one exception ) a handicapped person is NOT timed for their stay . This one exception , and I dont understand why, is for Inverclyde a 61 sq.mile area with a 80,000 population that takes in Greenock/Gourock on the south side of the river Clyde further down the river from Glasgow , so I hold one of those timer cards which I shall never use as I have no intention of traveling 100 miles to a dour windswept , grey, rainy area ( yes I have visited it ) . Can somebody tell me what the rational of the timer card is ? I see I can park in Scotland in single or double yellow lines and cant be towed away unless parking in an area braking the road traffic act and in London ,if I pay £10 I am exempt from the London Congestion Charge .

In some areas/car parks waiting time is limited and the “clock” is provided to show your arrival time. Where free blue badge parking is unlimited you don’t need to display the clock.

Not all car parks give free parking; some, for example, give an extra hour free when you pay.

Whilst you are allowed to park on double yellows you are not allowed to cause an obstruction.

Morning all. Some related news this morning – an app to help staff track disabled passengers in real-time is being rolled out nationwide:


Do you think it’ll help solve some of the problems?

Yes, I think it will be useful, but I don’t think it should be used as an excuse by the train operating companies to relax or downgrade their support service for disabled passengers on the assumption that the passenger will eventually make contact with them. Station staff will not know, presumably, whether or not the expected disabled passenger will have the app, will have a phone, and will be able to use it. The company should be ready and able to provide the proper service as booked and look out for the passenger if platforms are switched, or if a different train has to be used because of disruption, or if there are delays in arrivals and departures.

The presumed universal use of mobile phones is unfortunately leading to a decline in the quality of many services where the personal interface is crucial and in many other areas of life where cost-saving is the driver.

I hope that the app will be used to provide an enhanced service for disabled passengers and definitely not to downgrade the service for those who do not use it.

I agree, John. Apps are a good way of dealing with something, for those who have smart phones and they are new enough to support the app. They should be an extra facility, not substitute for any other though. My phone won’t support a communications app from my GP and its only 5 years old.

I do not have a disabilty but also find travelling by train is unsafe. I am 5 foot tall and getting on and off a train is so diffcult due to the large gap between the platform and train. I would love to visit my latest Great Grandson but I would have to get off at Clapham Junction Station, the last time I went I had to throw my bags on to the platform and jump across the gap, it was very frightening and dangerous. I also went to Brighton last year, on the return journey to Portsmouth found trains had been replaced by buses.
At the age of 83 I had to lug my cases off the bus and onto another train twice, when I got to Portsmouth Harbour the gap was so wide I had to be helped by another passenger. There was no extra staff on hand to help anybody. We need extra staff to make travelling rail safe for everyone.

I am a wheelchair user and reguarly travel by train. Passenger Assistance is a joke at times, especially at some Network Rail operated stations such as Euston and Manchester Piccadilly , though the latter has improved in past year if on correct train. Since the new timetable I have not arrived on the pre booked train due to it being cancelled so train staff have had to assist. In September numerous trains cancelled so not assisted on to train, ended up crawling down stairs to be told wrong anouncement! Eventually had to get a train that station staff told me not to board! Train staff again used their ramps. I am able to crawl which I have had to do on many occassions even though assistance booked, either due to none working lifts, or assistance staff not turning up, or on odd occassions because train manager decides disabled loo is out of action, they do not bother to find out if I need it! Once they tried to remove me after I got in to the vacant wheelchair space so I asked why as I had a valid ticket, oh you have got a First Class Anytime ticket! Even if I hadn’t I should have been allowed as other wheelchair space in use and orginal train cancelled due to line obstruction, but then they had told a visually impaired man that there were no seats left in First Class which was a lie. The Loo even became active again after train manager changed on route. I have learned to be very assertive and get what ever is in my space moved, and how to stop trains leaving without me, make sure you can put something in the way of the door! Do not let train doors be shut if you need off, what ever excuses they may use, enlist help of other passengers if you can’t get to door.
We should be able to use the same timetable as other passengers, not have to book assistance 24 hours in advance wasting hours of our time and find that it doesn’t materialise. There are good stations that I know will be there and if for some reason I am on the wrong train and a message has not got through via train staff or boarding station, will turn up with ramp quickly.
Hopefully the passenger assistance app that should be in use next year will help things improve. It is vital that we do not allow bad treatment to go unnoticed and be sure that you are not abandoned on broken down trains On one of which was stated to be on fire police removed me after staff and other passengers had left.
What will happen on driver only trains is worrying.

A damming indictment of 21 Century Britain Lesslie and a far cry from rail travel when I lived in London in the 60,s .
Care for the handicapped in this country now ? not if it affect’s the shareholders or those with no humanitarian instincts.