Carl who is recently disabled, strongly believes “access to transport is access to life”.
Over recent years, the rail industry has been on a mission to improve the railway, ensuring that it becomes more accessible, with as many barriers as possible removed allowing everyone to travel more independently. Carl is determined to get more people to take advantage of the assistance and support the railway has to offer.
From Three Bridges in Sussex, Carl is 41 and was a surveyor when he lost the use of his legs in a motorcycle racing accident five years ago. Carl is now spearheading a campaign to raise awareness of the assistance already on offer to help remove the barriers to travelling by rail, and encourage more people to travel by train independently and with confidence.
Previous to working with GTR, Carl worked for the Spinal Injuries Association, which inspired him through its work enabling and supporting him to rehabilitate after his accident.
Carl said: “Lying in my hospital bed, I was thinking, how can I turn what has happened to me into something positive? – and that’s what I’ve done.
“This is the type of job I always dreamed of – where you come to work to make a positive impact to improve the lives of thousands of people. Now I have this impairment and use a wheelchair, I encounter all sorts of barriers in society that disable me, and I can appreciate the obstacles on the railway.
“We recognise we are on a journey of improvement and the team I now work with has done so much to make things better. With one in five people having some form of disability, I want to build on that to help people gain independence through our rail service by highlighting the assistance we have available to remove those obstacles.”
Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) is the parent company of Northern, Southern, Thameslink and Gatwick Express and recognises that it has to undertake improvements in the level of service it provides people who require assistance to overcome the issues that stop independent travel on the railway.
The services available for people to make use of include older members of society who may find it difficult to negotiate stations and trains, also non-visible disabilities such as autism and learning difficulties.
GTR has systems and processes already in place, such as staff who will provide both support and assistance at stations and deploy ramps onto a train.
Another facility is the ability to pre-book assistance if needed with a dedicated 24-hour freephone helpline also priority seating cards and better information to give passengers the ability to truly plan their journeys.
GTR’s ‘Journey of Improvement’ initiative is built on this and was announced as part of a new accessible travel pledge in March this year and has been embraced by the entire company including:
- New accessibility training with GTR retraining all 3,000 customer-facing colleagues in disability equality courses which were delivered by experts who are disabled themselves and use trains often. The sessions explored the difficulties customers face, how to offer assistance and how to communicate effectively and gave the station and train customer service staff a unique view into the challenges disabled customers face. New staff members at all levels throughout the company are now undertaking the same learning.
- Less time is now needed to book assistance and passengers are always welcome to turn up at a station unannounced but to provide additional confidence, the notice period they’re asked to give to pre-book assistance has now been reduced from the day before and by 10pm, to just six hours before travel. From April 2022 this will then reduce to just two hours before travel.
- Extra Try A Train days which are organised events to give people with learning difficulties both the experience and confidence to buy tickets and also to catch trains
- Improved ‘Turn Up & Go’ services which will feature at 41 smaller stations formed of new mobile support teams and will be trialed soon to include 41 unstaffed or partly-staffed stations across the GTR network. The teams will arrive within 20 minutes to give assistance to passengers.
- A new passenger assistance app which is the new National Rail app means quick and easy requests for assistance can be made via smartphone without the need to get in touch with a contact centre via phone or email.
- Improved information will include greater detail about the accessibility of every GTR station on National Rail Enquiries and also the websites of Great Northern, Southern, Thameslink and Gatwick Express.
- Websites will see improvements with more than 80 improvements already made on the Great Northern, Southern, Thameslink and Gatwick Express websites to make them easier for blind or visually impaired people to access and read.
GTR bases its accessibility strategy on listening to the views and opinions of its Access Advisory Panel, which is made up of disabled passengers who travel frequently with GTR. The Access Advisory Panel has been in place since 2015.
SIA CEO Nik Hartley OBE said: “Carl was part of a national team of dedicated spinal cord injured colleagues whose singular purpose at SIA is to support newly-injured people to rebuild their lives and find their way to a new but equally fulfilled life. But disability is societal, and depends on accessibility at every stage. And so Carl’s decision to work with GTR will be transformative for his peers long into the future.”
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