Friday, February 25, 2011

British rail station renovates but adds no wheelchair accessibility

From This is Kent in the UK:

Disabled rail passengers this week received a double snub in their hopes of getting a fully accessible railway station at Paddock Wood.

A method for wheelchair users to cross between platforms will not form part of a £200,000 improvement scheme taking place this summer.

To rub salt into the wounds, it has also been confirmed that no lifts will be installed when the station's ageing footbridge is replaced next year.

On Monday it was revealed that new cycle racks, seating, information screens, litter bins and a vandal-proof passenger shelter are among items to be installed in a station spruce-up.

But after discussing the scheme, which is being co-funded by the Paddock Wood Community Partnership, town councillors demanded that station owner Network Rail should also drastically improve disabled access.

Council chairman Ron Aitchison said: "I think we should go back to Network Rail and say 'can you give us an update of what you are proposing to do for disabled access?' because under law they are compelled to do it."

Currently, wheelchair users arriving on coastbound services face a quarter-mile journey to the town centre via the Maidstone Road bridge and Station Road.

Councillor Peter Nicholls said: "At the moment if you come down from London and you are disabled that is your only route into the town. It's quite a long way."

A system for passengers to pre-book a free taxi to transport them from the northern entrance has been put in place by operator Southeastern, but requires 24 hours' notice. Councillors were sceptical as to whether it works. Paddock Wood Business Association chairman Paul Smith said: "The use of a taxi service isn't altogether the answer.

"It's something that we are going to put to the test to see whether the words they are saying actually happen in reality."

Mr Aitchison said: "Don't hold your breath."

Tunbridge Wells Disability Access Group chairman Michael Coggles later told the Courier: "What a lot of people do at the moment is go by train to Tonbridge, which has lifts, and change there to go back to Paddock Wood.

"It is an inconvenience for them."

Mr Coggles said a planning document called the Rail Utilisation Strategy for the South East pledged further improvements would be made to Paddock Wood over the next few years "subject to funding being made available".

These include a new overhead bridge, he said, but no lifts.

A Network Rail spokesman said: "Improving accessibility to stations is an important part of building a bigger and better railway.

"We are currently looking at opportunities to fund improved accessibility at Paddock Wood station which could be carried out to complement the other proposed station improvements."