More than £100 million in public funding… and no accessible showers

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A train company that has received more than £100 million in public subsidies to pay for new carriages for a sleeper service from Scotland to London has failed to provide any accessible on-board showers, even though it is providing such facilities for non-disabled people.

The Scottish government contributed £60 million towards the replacement of the Caledonian Sleeper fleet, while the UK government has provided another £50 million.

Caledonian Sleeper has put the cost of the new fleet at £150 million, while the Scottish government – through its transport agency Transport Scotland – claims it cost £120 million.

But Caledonian Sleeper, which is run by the outsourcing company Serco, has confirmed that while the new fleet includes cabins with ensuite showers and toilets, none of the wheelchair-accessible cabins have such facilities.

And although the carriages include accessible toilets, none of them offer accessible showers either.

This means that any wheelchair-user who wants to take a shower is likely to have to do so in a train station instead.

The new service launched last week between London Euston and Glasgow Central or Edinburgh Waverley, and will be followed later this year with a route between London and Aberdeen, Inverness and Fort William.

Accessible transport campaigner Doug Paulley said the failure to provide accessible showers made him “very angry and very sad”.

He said he believed the use of public money on the project meant the UK and Scottish government were breaching their public sector equality duty (PSED) under the Equality Act.

He said: “It strikes me that accessible showers would be considerably more important for disabled people than for non-disabled.

“It is a great shame that the vehicles don’t include accessible showers, and retrofitting them seems unlikely.

“Perhaps the vehicles will be in use for 40 years, like the old sleepers were.”

The carriages themselves probably meet the technical requirements for rail accessibility, so the company itself is unlikely to be guilty of discrimination under the act, said Paulley.

But he added: “I don’t see how investing £110 million of tax-payers’ money in stock that has facilities for non-disabled people to have showers but not disabled people meets the requirements of the public bodies involved under the PSED.”

Paulley has tried to discover what discussions took place about including accessible showers through a freedom of information request.

He told the Scottish government: “Many disabled people’s impairments, including mine, mean that they need showers more than non-disabled people.

“The same impairments mean that it is much more effort to use showers in stations – getting dressed and undressed, and dried and all the rest of it, is a massive effort, logistically and otherwise.

“Going direct from bed to a shower then back onto the bed to get dried and undressed cuts out so much of this.”

But he was told the Scottish government holds no information on discussions about whether accessible showers could be installed.

Among other campaigners who have raised concerns about the lack of accessible showers is Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson, who said it meant disabled people did not have the same choices as non-disabled people.

And “Jelly Head”, who tweets at @LordOrk, said: “Let’s not forget these new trains will be in service for decades so consequently disabled people will be disadvantaged long into the future which simply isn’t morally reasonable or acceptable.”

Even though the UK government contributed £50 million towards the project, the Department for Transport has refused to answer questions about the lack of accessible showers or its own PSED legal duties.

Transport Scotland has refused to say whether it ever considered the need for accessible showers or had any discussions with Caledonian Sleeper about the possibility, despite investing £60 million into the programme.

It said the decision for leasing and ordering the trains “rests wholly with Serco” but refused – despite repeated requests from Disability News Service – to say whether it ever discussed the issue of accessible showers.

A Transport Scotland spokesperson added: “All accessible rooms are located directly beside the accessible toilets. 

“We understand the option to include accessible showers was declined based on safety grounds but we do not hold the details.”

She added: “We don’t believe that Transport Scotland is in a breach of its public sector equality duty.”

A spokesperson for Serco Caledonian Sleeper said the company had not been able to “find a safe or acceptable way” to provide accessible showers on board the train.

Magnus Conn, new trains programme director for Serco Caledonian Sleeper, claimed the company had “worked extensively with accessibility experts to investigate all options and develop an offering that goes above and beyond while complying with relevant legislation” and had “sought to ensure the best experience possible for disabled users”.

The price of an accessible room on the service includes the use of accessible showers at the company’s own first class lounges at Dundee, Inverness, Fort William, Leuchars, Perth and Stirling, and to shower facilities run by other rail providers at London Euston, Glasgow Central, Edinburgh Waverley and Aberdeen.

Picture: Scottish secretary David Mundell (second from right) at the launch of the new service

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