The government has been accused of backtracking on one of the key pledges in its new National Disability Strategy, after it admitted that it is likely to take eight years to provide tactile safety markings on every rail platform in the country.
Disabled campaigners said the eight-year delay would put the lives of blind and partially-sighted rail passengers at risk for years to come.
The Department for Transport (DfT) promised last month, as part of the launch of the new cross-government strategy, that it would “work with Network Rail to improve safety with a new programme to install all station platforms with tactile paving”.
But it has now emerged that it will only be installing tactile paving at an initial 200 “priority stations” by next March, and that it was only “aiming” to install the platform edge tactile strips on every platform in Britain.
DfT later told Disability News Service (DNS) that its final deadline to complete the work was not until 2029.
DfT’s original pledge to act on the safety issue came in February, after investigators released a report into the death of a visually-impaired man who fell from a railway platform that had no tactile strip to warn him he was approaching the edge.
The Rail Accident Investigation Branch inquiry report found that the failure to fit the platform with tactile markings was a possible causal factor in the accident that led to the death of 53-year-old Cleveland Gervais.
But that report also warned that analysis of information provided by Network Rail showed that only around 60 per cent of British mainline station platforms were fitted with tactile surfaces.
There are about 2,500 rail stations in Britain, and Network Rail says there are 5,500 platforms across its network.
These figures suggest there are about 2,200 rail platforms that are not currently fitted with tactile warning strips.
But DfT announced last week that only an initial 200 stations would have tactile strips fitted by next March.
Andrew Hodgson, president of the National Federation of the Blind of the UK (NFB UK), said: “The delay in making tactile paving universal in all stations in the UK is very disappointing and the lack of it places the lives of vision impaired people at risk.
“I would urge that the rail industry makes public the information on whether tactile paving is present at a station.
“That way it makes it easier for vision impaired people to plan their journeys and request assistance in advance if necessary.
“The tragedy, however, is that at many of the stations where there is no tactile paving there will also be no assistance available.
“This means that in practice the freedom of movement of vision impaired people is restricted and their safety placed at risk.”
Sarah Leadbetter, NFB UK’s national campaigns officer, said the eight-year delay in installing tactile markings would put the lives of blind and visually-impaired people at risk for years to come.
She said: “The tactile markings warn us of danger. As a visually-impaired person with a guide dog waiting for a train, with the tactile markings I will know that I am not at the platform edge.
“There need to be tactile markings on all platforms.
“To say in the National Disability Strategy that all platforms will have tactile markings and then not to follow through on what they have said is not very good at all.
“It has only just been published.
“Myself and other blind and visually-impaired people need to be safe when travelling by train, so all platforms need to have this vital safety measure implemented as soon as possible.”
A DfT spokesperson said: “As set out in the National Disability Strategy, we are aiming to install tactile paving on every platform in Great Britain.
“This vital work is being completed as quickly as possible, with the first 200 priority stations being delivered this financial year.”
Network Rail said it would be prioritising stations where there was a higher proportion of blind and partially-sighted passengers.
It said that all its regions had plans to complete the work by March 2029, but this was subject to funding being made available by the government.
Allan Spence, head of public and passenger safety for Network Rail, said: “We know how important an issue tactile paving is to many passengers using our railway, which is why we are accelerating our programme for installation.
“While many station platforms already have tactile surfaces, more than 400 kilometres of tactile paving has to be installed on platforms across Britain to complete the job.
“It is a monumental task but one we are working very closely with our regional teams, ministers, suppliers and train operators to finish as soon as we can.
“Many stations already have tactile edges on every platform, helping safe, independent travel for blind or partially sighted people.
“Some stations that are partially fitted and ones which we know are used by blind and partially sighted people are at the top of our priority list.
“Immediate funding has been agreed to kickstart the extra work and more will follow.”
Meanwhile, DfT has also announced that it has accepted all the recommendations from a review of the new eligibility criteria for the blue badge parking scheme, which were introduced two years ago.
The new rules made it easier for autistic people and others with invisible impairments to secure blue badges, but disabled campaigners raised concerns at the time about how they would work in practice.
The government was forced into making the changes to blue badge guidance because of its previous decision in 2014 to tighten the rules, which led to a judicial review legal case taken on behalf of an autistic man with learning difficulties.
That led to DfT agreeing to review the guidance, and eventually introduce the new rules for local authorities in England, which came into force on 30 August 2019.
Among the new recommendations made in the review, and accepted by DfT, are to publish new guidance on the evidence to be submitted by blue badge applicants, and to improve the online application process through the Blue Badge Digital Service, which is used by nearly 80 per cent of all applicants.
DfT will also now take steps to standardise the assessments used by local authorities, and to monitor blue badge approval rates across councils.
Picture: Eden Park, the station in south-east London where Cleveland Gervais lost his life
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