Disabled campaigners and their allies have called on the transport secretary to restore “vital” government funding for projects to improve access to rail stations across England, Wales and Scotland.
In a letter signed by more than 50 organisations, Transport for All (TfA) – which campaigns for an accessible transport system – calls on Chris Grayling to restore tens of millions of pounds of funding for the Access for All scheme that has been deferred by the government.
The letter says that deferring half of all planned Access for All projects means that the “already slow progress on rail access has all but ground to a halt”.
The decision by the chair of Network Rail – later rubber-stamped by Grayling – to cut Access for All funding for 2014-19 from £102 million to £55 million, with the rest carried over to 2019-24, was first revealed by Disability News Service last year.
The letter has been sent as Grayling is due today (Thursday) to announce future levels of Network Rail funding, which TfA says provides an “opportunity to get things back on track”.
But the department’s Accessibility Action Plan, published in August, pledges only that the government will deliver funding already announced – including the deferred funding – in full, and that it will “continue to seek to extend the Access for All programme further in the future”.
The letter calls on Grayling to instead “invest in the potential of Deaf and disabled people” and reverse the decision to defer the Access for All funding, as well as commit to further Access for All funding after 2020 through “an ambitious long-term plan for making our railways fully accessible”.
It tells Grayling that it is an “injustice” for Deaf, disabled and older people to be “locked out of our rail network”, and that accessible stations also benefit parents with buggies, dog-owners and people with luggage.
The letter says government figures show that any money spent improving rail accessibility pays back nearly three times that amount in economic benefits, while an accessible station can mean “the difference between work and unemployment, a lifeline to friends and family or isolation”.
The Transport for All letter has been signed by disabled people’s organisations including Inclusion London, Disability Sheffield, Ealing Centre for Independent Living, Kingston Centre for Independent Living, People First (Self Advocacy), Regard, Shaping Our Lives, Asian People’s Disability Alliance and Real.
They say that nearly 80 per cent of rail stations across the UK do not have full step-free access, while many others do not have the other necessary access features such as tactile paving, audio-visual information and induction loops that enable Deaf and disabled people to use them.
A Department for Transport spokeswoman said: “We take the issue of accessibility across all modes of transport very seriously and are continuing to improve station access through the Access for All programme and other major projects.
“By 2019 at least 75 per cent of all journeys will be from stations with step-free access.
“The Accessibility Action Plan is the next step in a much-needed dialogue with disabled people, carers, transport providers and local authorities to identify new ways to improve travel.
“We also secured commitments from the rail industry earlier this year to help make journeys better for disabled people.”