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Rail minister urges sector to maintain an accessible service during pandemic

Coronavirus: Heaton-Harris writes to Rail Delivery Group after complaints by disability campaigners

Mark Moran
08 April 2020
Chris Heaton-Harris
Chris Heaton-Harris

 

Reports that disabled people have faced difficulties when trying to get assistance at rail stations has prompted the Department for Transport to write an open letter to the Rail Delivery Group (RDG).

Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris has released a letter sent to the RDG in which he asks that train operators maintaining accessibility during the COVID-19 outbreak. “Rail must, irrespective of the circumstances, always be accessible for all,” wrote Heaton Harris. “It is critical that people who need to do so are able to travel to work in a safe and reliable manner during this challenging time for the country.”

The minister wrote of his concerns about reports of disabled people are being refused help at rail stations. “Since the government issued advice for people to avoid travel unless necessary, I have been concerned to hear from disability campaigners about a few incidents at rail stations where individual passengers were apparently refused assistance,” said Heaton-Harris.

“I feel strongly that social distancing measures should not limit access in this way and would request that staff have access to clear guidance to ensure they can support all passengers using our railways.”

The RDG is the British rail industry membership body that brings together passenger and freight rail companies, Network Rail and High Speed 2. Heaton-Harris welcomed indications from the group that it is addressing this issue. “I would like to thank you for your assurances that RDG has updated its guidance for operators, so rail workers can remain safe without building barriers to travel for disabled key workers.”

The minister stated that the Department for Transport will be working closely with the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) to investigate any reports of failure to provide assistance to disabled people during the COVID-19 outbreak. “Our position on accessibility remains the same, even in these extraordinary times, delivering an accessible service for every passenger is essential to creating an inclusive railway,” wrote the minister.

Heaton-Harris wrote that the government has shown a commitment to creating a more accessible railway in recent months. He cited an announcement that 124 stations to benefit from a share of £20m for mid-tier improvements, part of the £300m Access for All programme.

The minister also referred to the launch of It’s Everyone’s Journey, a campaign that seeks to ensure those with non-visible disabilities have a safe, accessible network.

The minister also used his letter to pay tribute to the work being done by rail workers. “I want to share my thanks to everyone working hard to keep our railways running, so all those who need to get to work can do so, including NHS staff on the frontline of tackling the virus.”

 
 
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