Welsh train access fears over 2020 deadline

0

A significant number of local Welsh trains will almost certainly not be accessible to many disabled people by the legal deadline of 2020, according to a new report.

All passenger rail vehicles have to meet strict access standards by 1 January 2020, but a report by the Welsh Assembly’s petitions committee says that about 70 per cent of the trains currently used on the Wales and Borders franchise – currently operated by Arriva – do not currently comply with these requirements.

Transport operators, politicians and civil servants have all been aware of the 2020 deadline to comply with the European Union access regulations since 2011.

Some of the Welsh trains are now nearly 40 years old, while even the newest are more than 20 years old.

The petitions committee wrote the report in response to a petition collected by young disabled campaigners from the charity Whizz-Kidz.

The Welsh government has been in discussions with four potential bidders to take over the Wales and Borders franchise, but the process has been held up by the UK government’s failure to devolve the necessary powers to Wales, despite agreeing to do so three years ago.

Ken Skates, the Welsh government’s cabinet secretary for economy and infrastructure, told the petitions committee: “The current contract does not compel the train operating company to provide new rolling stock.

“As a result, our newest trains are more than 20 years old and the oldest are fast approaching their 40th birthday.

“Most do not comply with our accessibility requirements, which in itself presents a major challenge.”

Arriva told the committee that it could not introduce new, accessible trains because it might not be awarded the new franchise.

The committee says in its report that the situation is “a major cause for concern”.

It adds: “Whatever course of action the Welsh Government, TfW [Transport for Wales, which is owned by the Welsh government] and the successful bidder choose to take – which could include new trains, leasing other units or refurbishing existing rolling stock – the timescale appears extremely daunting, if not impossible.”

And it concludes that it is “still unclear how the requirement for rolling stock to be accessible by 2020 will be achieved in practice”.

The committee criticised the UK government’s Department for Transport for failing to take earlier action to address the issue, which had been “compounded by the delays in transferring executive powers over the award of the new franchise to the Welsh Government, as originally agreed in 2014”.

A spokesman for the Welsh government said that its “frustrations [with DfT]around the delay in transferring executive powers are well documented”.

He added: “We welcome this report and will consider its recommendations carefully when looking at what more can be done to further improve access to public transport for all.”

He later said that the Welsh government’s “target” was “for all stock to comply by 2020”.

In July, the Welsh government announced that it had leased five four-carriage trains, with the help of £1 million financial support from Arriva, which will allow some of the inaccessible carriages to be taken temporarily out of service and upgraded on a rolling basis.

Skates said in July that this was “one part of a number of agreements with rail industry bodies that ensure that the majority of the current Wales and Borders fleet will comply with Persons of Restricted Mobility regulations by 1 January 2020”.

But the committee’s report says it is “unclear how the requirement for rolling stock to be accessible by 2020 will be achieved in practice, even taking into account a recent announcement of extra trains being secured for the Wales and Borders services”.

Asked whether the delay in handing powers to the Welsh government was partly to blame for so many trains still being inaccessible, and whether it should have acted sooner to address the problem, a Department for Transport spokesman claimed that there had been no delay.

He said: “We are absolutely committed to accessible trains and have now put out the invitation to tender for potential operators to submit bids.

“There is now a process that must [be followed]before a new operator takes over, likely bringing new trains with them.

“We are committed to giving the Welsh government greater control over the Wales and Borders franchise and are working closely with them to facilitate their ongoing procurement process.”

In their petition, the Whizz-Kidz campaigners said they wanted “the right to accessible public transport when required without the need to plan assistance at least 24 hours in advance.

“This will then give us the ability to be independent, seek employment, travel to work and meet friends at short notice.”

They also said they wanted taxi and bus drivers and train staff to undergo compulsory disability equality training.

Ayesha (pictured), a Whizz-Kidz young ambassador from Cardiff, told the committee in a video: “I’m 20 now, I would like to be like everyone else, go around without telling someone 20 times that I need this, I need that, to get what I need straight away, just go wherever I’m going and come back without no problem.”

Sam, another Whizz-Kidz Cardiff young ambassador, said: “If I want to go on the train at the last minute, I’m not able to because they want to know when I want the ramp, and I don’t get why I have to ring every time 48 hours ahead before actually travelling to tell them.

“I shouldn’t have to ring every time. It just makes me frustrated. It’s just frustrating that I have to make a 10-minute call every single time I want the ramp.”