Disabled activists are preparing a protest action over a train operator’s plans to run mainline rail services that wheelchair-users will not be able to access.
Disability News Service revealed last week that TransPennine Express (TPE) is to introduce two extra trains, each with four carriages – all of which will be inaccessible to wheelchair-users – onto the line between Liverpool and Scarborough.
Leaked documents showed that 12 services every weekday will run without any provision for wheelchair-users.
TPE said that introducing the extra carriages was part of its franchise agreement with the Department for Transport and Rail North (which represents local transport authorities across the north of England) and will provide additional capacity on the network ahead of the introduction of new trains.
But the news caused outrage among disabled people, and two groups – Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP) and Manchester Disabled People Against Cuts (MDPAC) – are now planning a protest before TPE starts using the inaccessible carriages next month.
GMCDP has also launched a petition, calling on TPE to “abandon this discriminatory and likely unlawful plan, and make the necessary arrangements to ensure that every train service it runs is accessible to disabled people”.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has also expressed concern at TPE’s plans.
And one legal advice centre has issued a call for wheelchair-users interested in taking a legal challenge against the move.
TPE’s plans had emerged only days after another rail operator was exposed for threatening disabled people’s right to use public transport.
Govia Thameslink Railway had issued “grossly insulting” guidance to station staff that said they should not attempt to place “persons of reduced mobility” on a train “if there is a possibility of delaying the service”.
Rick Burgess (pictured), a member of both MDPAC and GMCDP, said the protest action against TPE was needed “to prevent this terrible step backwards in disabled people’s right to travel and social inclusion”.
He said: “MDPAC will not accept this retrograde policy of TPE’s that erases our history.”
He said the TPE decision and the guidance issued by Govia Thameslink were together “a worrying thin end of a wedge returning us to the bad old days”.
He said: “TPE will be opposed until they ensure all their services are accessible.
“Discrimination and exclusion will not be tolerated. We also welcome any legal action and union action being considered.”
An EHRC spokesman said: “We are concerned, as we would be if any service is potentially being made harder to access for disabled people.
“We will be monitoring the situation closely.”
He added: “For disabled people, being able to use a public service, like the railway, is vital to independent living.
“We understand this to be a temporary measure, but TPE must make all reasonable adjustments so disabled people can get to work and go about their daily lives.”
He said that EHRC would consider further action if “people or groups come to us with evidence of failures to make those adjustments, or the effectiveness of them”.
Nick Whittingham, chief executive of Kirklees Citizens Advice and Law Centre (KCALC), has already issued a call for disabled passengers willing to take a legal case against TPE.
He said he believed that TPE was “playing around on the edge” of what was legal and ethical.
He said: “It’s one thing to have an existing set-up, a building, a structure, a type of vehicle, that is not accessible and you might have plans in future to make it accessible.
“It is another thing to say, ‘all our trains are currently accessible but we are now going to introduce some old ones that aren’t, which means that each service will no longer be accessible.’”
He added: “I am not sure, given the duty to make reasonable adjustments [under the Equality Act], that saying, ‘Oh, you can wait for the next train,’ is a reasonable adjustment.
“The courts have to decide what a reasonable adjustment is, but that doesn’t sound very reasonable.”
A TPE spokeswoman said last week that the trains were “being used in passenger service on a limited and temporary basis to provide extra seats for customers and to support driver training ahead of the introduction of the first of our brand new Nova trains later this year”.
She admitted that running inaccessible services was “not ideal” but the carriages would only operate on “a small number of services for a limited period of time”.
She said yesterday (Wednesday) that there was “no update” on TPE’s plans.