Network Rail has admitted that it plans to build two completely inaccessible new footbridges, in a further apparent breach of the government’s own Inclusive Transport Strategy.
In a response provided under Environmental Information Regulations (EIR), Network Rail admits there are two “confirmed and funded” sites for “stepped bridges without lifts or ramps”, one in Surrey and one in Scotland.
Both bridges will be basic, inaccessible versions of its new FLOW footbridge design.
Disabled campaigners expressed shock and alarm earlier this year when Network Rail opened the first of this new prototype at Wistanstow, in Shropshire, even though the current version of the FLOW design cannot be used by wheelchair-users.
It then emerged that Network Rail planned to build at least two more inaccessible footbridges in other locations in England: in Wokingham, Berkshire, and at Copmanthorpe, near York.
Now Network Rail has admitted that it plans to install inaccessible FLOW bridges in Egham, Surrey, and at Boreland, on the outskirts of Kirkcaldy, in Fife.
This means it has recently built or is planning at least five new inaccessible footbridges across England and Scotland.
The Boreland bridge will replace an existing stepped footbridge, while the Egham bridge will be built next to an upgraded road level crossing.
The Egham plans will mean that non-disabled people will be able to use the new footbridge, while wheelchair-users and some other disabled people and parents with buggies will have to continue to use the road level crossing (pictured) to cross the busy rail line between London Waterloo and Reading.
Accessible transport campaigner Doug Paulley said the combination of Network Rail’s lack of funding and its failure to value accessibility was “a toxic and dangerous situation in which accessibility is considered optional at best”.
He said: “They need to stop building the FLOW bridge unless and until it is fully accessible – which I believe will be never.
“They are building in inaccessibility for decades – or centuries – to come.”
He said this was a “sad reflection of the corporate culture” which does not expect to be held to account for breaches of accessibility standards.
Paulley also called for a design standard for accessible footbridges, and questioned why there was not one in place already.
Another accessible transport campaigner, Sam Jennings, said the decision of Network Rail to build new inaccessible bridges demonstrates that the Department for Transport is “complicit in disability discrimination” and “confirms that while disabled people are tax-paying members of the public, we are deemed lesser right from the top down”.
She said: “I just don’t understand how new inaccessible infrastructure is lawful.
“These designs should have been rejected very early into the process for this reason.”
In its EIR response, Network Rail says the “solution provided by the FLOW bridges at these two locations does not make them any less accessible than they are already”, and it adds: “While it is possible to construct more accessible FLOW bridges, the cost of doing so in these two instances would have been so high that they would have prevented the projects going ahead.”
It says it has plans to install a version of the FLOW bridge with ramps in north Wales, and a version with lifts at Pershore station in the Cotswolds.
Network Rail runs most of Britain’s railway infrastructure, including 30,000 bridges, tunnels and viaducts, and its aim is “to ensure [its] policies and actions support the wider strategic policies” of UK and Scottish transport ministers.
The UK government’s Inclusive Transport Strategy “sets out the Government’s plans to make our transport system more inclusive, and to make travel easier for disabled people”.
The strategy also says that one of its five main themes is: “Improving physical infrastructure – ensuring that vehicles, stations and streetscapes are designed, built and operated so that they are easy to use for all.”
The Department for Transport (DfT) declined to say if ministers were concerned about the Network Rail plans, or if they believed the installation of inaccessible new footbridges complied with the government’s Inclusive Transport Strategy.
But a DfT spokesperson said in a statement: “The rail industry has a legal obligation to meet accessibility standards and the Equality Act 2010, and the Office of Rail and Road has the power to take enforcement action if these are not met.”
A Network Rail spokesperson said: “We are legally obliged to consider the needs of those with mobility issues so that any decisions we make when upgrading existing infrastructure, accessibility is carefully considered.
“However, at some locations, this is not always possible.”
He said the Egham bridge was outside the town and funded by a local university as part of its development of new halls of residence.
He said: “The reason for installing the bridge was to improve the safety of the level crossing, which was high risk and would see many more students using it at all hours.
“The level crossing was upgraded to full barriers, monitored by CCTV, and the road and footway improved across it (including the provision of tactile strips).
“Following a diversity impact assessment, along with looking at funding and the availability of land for building, the decision was made to install a stepped bridge, while maintaining safe level access using the upgraded crossing, protected by new full-length gates and lights.
“Experience shows that users with mobility issues would still use the crossing when the barriers are up, whether there is a ramped bridge there or not, as most people would take the level route, especially as it has been resurfaced and lined, with tactiles and the previously-mentioned lights and barriers.”
Picture by Google
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