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Reactive, not proactive: Update on the lack of disabled toilets on UK trains

  • 1 Comment

Having recently raised the issue of a lack of disabled toilets on a UK train service, Josephine reflects on the recent media coverage resulting from the experience of paralympian, Anne Wafula-Strike, having no access to a toilet throughout a train journey

A few weeks after my blog on the lack of disabled toilets on an East Midlands train was published, the media has been bombarding the public with Anne Wafula-Strike (MBE)’s experience on a Cross Country train that did not have a functional disabled toilet.

I empathise with Anne, but I hate to think that it had to take a celebrity and well-known public figure for the government or the press to acknowledge the lack of accessible disabled toilets on UK trains. Whatever happened to efficient service provision for a service that was paid for? Disabled or not, famous or not, amenities on trains should be in working order for all.

What a coincidence one might say, my blog was published on 8th December, the same day that Anne travelled on the Cross Country train. Although something tells me that there is a likelihood that many more people have had similar experiences to Anne, but they did not tell anyone and the press failed to pick it up or ignored them.

“Who knows what excuses the train managing directors will ask us to understand”

According to Anne, “by the time they reached a station with a disabled toilet, it was too late”. The good thing about this is that it may not be too late for other disabled persons who travel on trains in the future… Then again, who knows what excuses the train managing directors will ask us to understand, such as this ridiculous one: “trains hitting cows” (Andy Cooper, Managing Director of CrossCountry).

I remember once having to pay double the cost of travel because my train from Eltham to St Pancras was delayed and the time when I forgot my rail card so had to pay more. I would really like someone at the train office to understand that those excuses were true.

“At least Cross Country trains bothered to respond and apologise”

Now on the issue of train companies ignoring complaints about the lack of or faulty disabled toilets on trains, Anne stated that while Andy Cooper added that Anne would be offered “complimentary first class travel tickets by way of an apology”. At least Cross Country trains bothered to respond and apologise. Nursing Times contacted East Midlands trains for their comment before my blog on the lack of functional disabled toilets on their train was published, their response arrived almost two months later.

“Why did it have to take this type of situation for anyone to notice?”

In their 3rd January article, the Guardian asked people with disabilities to write to them about their inadequate services for disabled people. Ok, don’t get me wrong, I may not be considered disabled, but I am a mental health nurse who cares about health and wellbeing and I feel that we need a more proactive, rather than this reactive, response to this sort of health issue.

The IndependentBBCGuardian and now the rail minister, Paul Maynard, have decided to act. But why did it have to take this type of situation for anyone to notice that such an important aspect of service provision was missing from an industry that charges travellers very high prices for train journeys?

Josephine NwaAmaka Bardi

RMN, ESRC PhD Student, University of Nottingham

Founder of RAMHHE - Raising Awareness of Mental Health in Higher Education


Response from East Midlands trains

An East Midlands Trains spokesperson said:  “The vast majority of our services run without any problems with toilet facilities and we’ve had many positive comments from customers with disabilities about the assistance they have received from our team. We want customers with disabilities to be able to travel with confidence.  Therefore, in the event that an accessible toilet is not working, we send out proactive messages via twitter, and our stations and on-train teams are made aware so that they can keep customers informed.

“Where a customer has booked assistance through our team for their journey, we would endeavour to contact the customer in advance to see if they wanted to travel on an alternative service.”        


  • 1 Comment

Readers' comments (1)

  • I am a wheelchair user and have to make many long distance train journeys over 20 years and currently at least 2 return journeys a month. Out of order or non existent disabled toilets is a feature of about 70% of recent journeys using various train companies. Cross Country is a major offender. Interestingly first class tickets to the Paralympian Anne would be useless on the route she travelled as there is no first class wheelchair space and the wheelchair spaces double as bike racks with another rack opposite the disabled toilet blocking use by wheelchair users when a bike is chained to it. Cross Country trains that travel from Scotland to Cornwall have sewage tanks that are obviously too small and infrequently emptied. Some Cross Country train managers take great delight in telling Assistance staff at stations that wheelchair users cannot board as the loo is out of action. I nearly always have a connecting journey to make when using these trains and have to get to meetings and appontments on time. There is not even a guarentee that the the next train will even have a vacant wheelchair space never mind a loo that functions. I have crawled onboard these trains when my ramp has disapeared simply not to be left abandoned on a station platform at night hundreds of miles from home. Staff even then tried to remove me even though I had a very valid ticket.
    The Virgin East Coast route is a huge problem, but I am told not to worry there will be new trains in 2 years time. How does that help me get to meetings now! Half their current trains have no disabled loo in first class, limiting wheelchair spaces on a busy route even more. I do expect to use the same timetable as other passengers, but usually can't. Last Thursday I had carefully booked an evening peak time train that normally had good facilities to allow me home so I did not have to spend in excess of 14 hours sat in a wheelchair. only to be told the loo was out of action, and that I would have to wait for the next train, which didn't even have a disabled loo next to the space! What time did they think there would be a train with facilities to meet basic human need and a vacant wheelchair space? How was I suppossed to cope mean time, even the lift to the warm lounge was out of order.
    Fortunately I normally work on the assumption that there will not be a working loo. Having bladder and bowel dysfunction can come in handy for some wheelchair users. I did establish that the actual toilet compartment was not flooded, so that if needs must I could cope. However many disabled people including those who may not be obviously disabled by bladder or bowel weakness cannot cope for many hours.
    As a member of the human race I expect to always be told when toilets are not working, but do not expect train staff to dictate my toilet requirements and ban me from travel. They don't inform other passengers often in more need than my self until after the train has departed if at all. As a former frequent user of EMT I was never told when there was no working loo, It took many years to get it recognised that the standard class wheelchair space on the old HST had no access to a loo, limiting fully useable wheelchair spaces to one and there were rogue trains with none. Few realise that old trains do not have to be fully accessible for a few more years yet. We have no equality rights on these old trains. Many train companies have ancient rolling stock with no accessible toilet even to go out of order.
    Newer trains have often managed to get exemption certificates from the rail regulators for by passing many access requirments. Our only recourse for most train journeys would by the Human Rights Act.
    In the mean time it is vital that nursing staff who look after people with limited mobility, or other impairments that make mobilsing through a train or coach or plane difficult, as well as those with bladder and or bowel dysfunction the means to cope with long journeys. Those who have SP or indwelling catheters need access to a range of larger drainage bags to meet individual need and knowledge to drain into containers under blankets/ coats etc, ISC users need to be taught to put in a very temporary indwelling catheter and be prescribed and taught how to use intermittent catheters with drainage bag attached which can be used when the loo rather than the space is the problem. For pad users and those with bladder weakness a larger type of pad/pants may be wise. For bowel problems it will very much dependon the underlying cause, but solutions can be found, which for some may be loperamide, and rearrangement of their normal bowel management. Disabled people can never assume access to a loo on a train. Just because somewhere states they have a disabled toilet does not mean it is to those in a wheelchair. Hospitals are some of the worst offenders in blocking side transfer by large foot operated disposaland rubbish bins. For people travelling with more complex impairments Changing Place Toilets are needed. Few Train stations have one, why?

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