Exclusive: ABC reveals buried RDG report on disabled access, which strongly advises keeping the guard on the train

Since launching an urgent crowdfunder for our ongoing legal case against the Department for Transport on 19th June, we have received an anonymous package in the post…

The package contained a vital report on rail accessibility, commissioned by ATOC (now the Rail Delivery Group) and completed in May 2015. ‘On Track for 2020? The Future of Accessible Rail Travel’ has been kept under lock and key until now and we release it today in the belief that every disabled and older citizen in the UK has the right to be informed of its contents. It would appear that somebody within the rail industry thought so too.

We have studied the report’s contents in depth – and discovered that it contains strongly termed warnings about the impact of driver-only operation (DOO) and railway destaffing on disabled and older people.

What’s so controversial about this report?

The contents of the report represents an argument over DOO that has received shamefully little attention by the press and politicians, many of whom have chosen instead to write off the unions’ concerns as “inexplicable”. We can no longer stand for the needs of disabled and older people to be treated as “niche” concern.

We point towards the report’s own argument that the economic benefit of providing spontaneous access to disabled and older people actually far outweighs the cost. (Of course, the economic argument is only necessary if the moral, societal, and legal ones are not enough.) On the legal note, the report includes worrying implications in the statement that the Department for Transport prefers an “outcome-based” rather than a “compliance based” approach towards the Equality Act 2010.

The report confirms ABC’s arguments by strongly distinguishing between metro and rural parts of the rail network, and stating that the practice of running unstaffed trains running to unstaffed stations is a breach of the Equality Act. It says definitively: “It is Conductors who are best placed to ensure that assistance is delivered effectively and in accordance with the law.”

The report contains extensive discussion of the “clear trends” arising from the McNulty report in regard to de-staffing; and its authors repeatedly note their opposition to prospective policy changes that might allow unstaffed trains to run to unstaffed stations.

Why are we publishing?

It is clear that this is a high quality report, and one that was originally written for the benefit of both policy-makers and those who work on the railway. In addition to this, the near-total exclusion of disabled and older people from the DOO debate has gone on so long that the public has the right to view its recommendations.

The rail strikes could be solved right now with the provision of a proper”Guard Guarantee” – and this would have the benefit of ending industrial action on the Southern Rail network, just as it enters its second year.

Why has this report been buried for so long?

This discovery comes just days after the 6-month-delayed release of the Gibb report; just as journalists and MPs raise calls for a proper analysis of its editing decisions, and the release of the redacted Appendix Nine.

ABC’s disabled members have been very upset that the issue of disabled access was entirely absent from the Gibb Report. This issue has previously been absent from the RSSB report on DOO; as well as recent ORR publications, which focus mainly on the methodology of DOO and may not be providing adequate oversight of the activities of Southern Rail in regard to new staffing practices.

The Transport Select Committee emphasised the urgent need for a disability impact assessment on GTR in their November 2016 report, yet even now our campaign takes regular witness reports from disabled people who have been abandoned on trains and platforms by Southern Rail; often due to the absence of a second member of staff on board.

The report provides invaluable evidence for our legal case on disabled access, and notes that there is currently “very little case law” and that it is “highly likely that at some point relevant case law will be made”. It also states: “it is likely that case law will in future have an impact on accessibility”.

On Track for 2020? The Future of Accessible Rail Travel

Co-authored by Ann Frye Ltd, Rail Accessibility Ltd and MWW Transport Consultants.

Final Report, May 2015

This Report was commissioned by the Association of Train Operating Companies (now the Rail Delivery Group) to consider how accessible Britain’s railway network will be to older and disabled people by 1st January 2020 (the date by which all rolling stock must meet legal accessibility requirements).

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[This article was edited on 21/04/2022 to include a link to the report and remove expired links to summary documents. The full report was released on this blog the following day, 27/06/2017, and finally published on the Rail Delivery Group’s website a week later.]

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