Yesterday, we announced our discovery of a vital report on rail accessibility, commissioned by the Association of Train Operating Companies (now the Rail Delivery Group) and completed in May 2015. Nobody had viewed or even heard of this document’s existence until now – despite repeated calls from disabled people, campaigns like ABC and Transport for All, and even the Transport Select Committee; for proper oversight of disabled access during Southern Rail’s chaotic implementation of driver-only operation (DOO).
It now seems that over a whole year of calling for impact assessments and a proper, transparent public discussion of the impact of DOO on disabled and older people; a report had already done just that and has been sitting in a drawer at the Rail Delivery Group for the past two years.
What does this mean for our legal case on Thursday?
The most ironic thing of all in the report coming to us at this time is the strong potential for legal challenge it clearly lays out. The Equality Act 2010 is a weak, ongoing process built by case law; and the breach of the Act occurring when Southern Rail runs unstaffed trains to unstaffed stations has already been said by many esteemed commentators and lawyers to be an extremely strong case if we can get it in front of a judge.
With the Department for Transport preferring an “outcome-based” rather than a “compliance based” approach to the Equality Act, we believe that they not only exempt themselves from these rules, but rather fear new case law being made that will compel them to comply. The report states it is “highly likely” that this will happen and “likely” that this in turn will have an effect on the legal position regarding the provision of disabled access. It is up to us to make this happen.
A witness statement from last week
Both ABC and Transport for All receive regular, if not weekly, reports of access failures on Southern Rail. Here is the most recent we received; describing an experience that has become all too familiar to disabled passengers:
“I’m a wheelchair user. On the 23rd June 2017 I travelled from London to Brighton. I had booked ramp assistance for the outward journey three days in advance. But booking made no difference: platform staff at Victoria didn’t know about my booking, and when I arrived at Brighton, no one came with a ramp to get me off the train: station staff had absolutely no idea I was on the train. I was very angry. For my return journey, staff at Brighton promised to inform Victoria I was on my way. But on arrival at Victoria, again no one came to assist me with a ramp – no one had informed Victoria I was coming. These are NOT isolated incidents: it happens to me very often, and it’s upsetting and annoying and causes much anxiety. Southern Rail pays empty lip service to accessibility for all passengers, but the reality is that they don’t give a toss and refuse to implement policies and procedures which actually make the promised assistance solidly reliable.”
On Track for 2020? The Future of Accessible Rail Travel
The full report can be downloaded here:
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[This article was edited on 21.04.2022. to add a more prominent link to the report to the top of the page.]