Trio of legal cases against train company boosts access information campaign

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A leading disabled campaigner is taking three separate legal cases against a train company, as part of his efforts to persuade the rail industry to improve the “lamentably inaccurate” information it provides on access to its services.

Rail enthusiast Doug Paulley was twice driven to distraction by the failures of ScotRail to provide accurate information as he tried to plan trips to Aviemore and Orkney in September.

The company’s failures resulted in him having to send scores of emails and spend hours on the phone to try to correct its mistakes booking his tickets and assistance for the Orkney trip, ruining what he had hoped would be the “journey of a lifetime”.

And when he later tried to complain to the company about its failures, a ScotRail manager sent libellous comments about him to other senior figures in the rail industry, suggesting that he had lied about what he had been told by ScotRail staff.

Paulley (pictured) says the information train operating companies publish on their own websites about access at stations across Britain often contradicts the information shown on the National Rail website.

This can make it impossible for disabled passengers to be able to plan their journeys with any certainty.

It is part of a widespread failure to ensure that information on access to rail services for disabled people is accurate and kept up-to-date, he believes.

Last month, he was even told by a ScotRail operator that every station in the country was accessible to wheelchair-users, when industry information shows that more than half of the company’s stations do not have step-free access.

One of the legal cases Paulley is taking against ScotRail concerns his efforts to book rail tickets for what he had hoped would be a “trip of a lifetime” to and from the north-east of Scotland, for a short visit to Orkney.

To make the trip particularly special he wanted to book first-class tickets if possible, and was assured by ScotRail – despite what he had been told by another train company – that there were spaces available in first class for wheelchair-users.

After booking those tickets in June, he then discovered that ScotRail does not have any first-class wheelchair spaces on any of its services, and that the company had previously been criticised for allowing wheelchair-users to buy first-class tickets which they were unable to use.

ScotRail had promised the regulator last year that it would ensure that wheelchair-users would not be able to buy first-class tickets.

Paulley told the company, in a letter warning of his intention to take legal action: “I spent several hours making phone calls (with which I struggle because I am deaf) and sent or received a hundred or so emails, all in an attempt to make a booking for two single journeys.

“I bought lots of tickets I either couldn’t use or didn’t need, which I then had to get refunded.”

He added: “I have had to display real dogged determination in order to get these tickets and assistance booked, and to do the journey.

“This was supposed to be the journey of a lifetime, but instead it will be marred forever by memories of weeks of me feeling like I was banging my head against a brick wall, in order to arrange what should have been a straightforward booking, and for any non-disabled person would be.”

The second legal case relates to his attempts to obtain information from ScotRail about access at Aviemore rail station.

As a result of ScotRail’s failure to clarify whether the station was accessible to wheelchair-users, he had to abandon plans to visit Badaguish, a nearby accessible holiday destination run by the Speyside Trust.

He told ScotRail, in a letter warning of his intention to take legal action, that its failings were “absolutely infuriating” and that he felt as though ScotRail “just don’t give two hoots about my need for access information in order to plan and book a journey with relative confidence”.

He told the company he wanted to correct “unacceptable discriminatory service provision by Scotrail who have failed to meet their moral or legal obligations to disabled people”.

Paulley warned ScotRail that he had taken about 50 disability discrimination cases over the last decade, one of which eventually saw him secure a ground-breaking Supreme Court victory on access to buses for wheelchair-users.

In a third legal letter, he warned ScotRail that he viewed the false, libellous statements that had been made about his complaints about information on access to be “very serious”.

He said: “Allegations that I am being disingenuous, that I have made complaints and sought compensation having attempted assistance and ticket bookings despite knowing them to not be possible, fundamentally undermine my credibility as a disabled rights campaigner and reduce my efficacy, particularly when made to senior managers at multiple Train Operating Companies, and particularly when made by a senior manager at a Train Operating Company.”

ScotRail said it was unable to comment on active legal cases.

Paulley told Disability News Service that the three legal cases showed the “recurrent passenger assistance booking and access information failures across the rail industry”.

Much of the information, he said, is “lamentably inaccurate and not fit for purpose”.

Now he wants to see action from the industry, and is due to attend a meeting (today) with industry representatives to discuss his concerns.

He is optimistic that plans to replace cross-industry IT systems could improve the accuracy and reliability of information on assistance and accessibility.

He said: “All I want is for train operating companies to do what they are legally and morally obliged to do, that being to ensure information is accurate, usable and comprehensive.

“It isn’t, and it should be.”

A spokeswoman for the Rail Delivery Group, which represents all the country’s train companies and Network Rail, said: “We look forward to meeting Doug Paulley later this week to discuss in detail his concerns.

“Our accessibility team is working hard to improve accessibility for customers across the network, and we are involving rail companies, stakeholders and advocacy groups to help us.

“Over the last year, we have developed a detailed programme of work, centred on tackling the challenges our customers face and improving overall experience by embracing new technologies and ensuring our staff can provide the best possible service, not just for people with disabilities but for everyone who uses our railway.”