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A Sideways View – I like trains, but stations?

Regular blogger for Adapted Vehicle Hire and I-drive, Peter Cooke, is a professor at the University of Buckingham Business School. He has been a wheelchair user for nearly twenty years and is a well known commentator on disability and automotive issues. He appears regularly in the press, on radio and television. He is the author of a dozen books.

I travel by train quite a lot and find that as a wheelchair user I generally receive excellent service. The staff at Didcot Parkway, my local main line station for London, are masters at getting my wheelchair and me into the train in double quick time, even at the busiest time of day. Sometimes there is a challenge for the disabled seat; it has extra legroom and is a good place to put excess luggage, but you can’t blame the station for that!

Equally, Paddington Station, like every main line terminus, has an excellent Special Needs group with great skills at getting disabled people on and off trains. I think they have a really tough job. The number of complaints they get! Say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ – it helps create a civil society; a big smile really does work wonders.

I also have a theory that every London cabbie must be related to every other one. Why? They all have a ‘disabled sister’ or a ‘disabled auntie’ – given the number of cabbies in London, if there aren’t a few widely shared disabled relations then somewhere in the Home Counties there is a vast colony of disabled cabbies’ relations – do you know where it is? Maybe I-drive could find out?

Eurostar has the most magnificent loading platforms to get mobility impaired people into the carriages – it’s a big jump even for an able-bodied person. In Paris and Brussels Midi there are lifting platforms onto which a wheelchair is loaded, complete with passenger, and raised to the train level so one can proceed uninterrupted into the train carriage. The only problem is that there are, I’m told, only two disabled designated spaces per train… I tried four different trains each way to Brussels recently and could not get a disabled seat – but at least I was taken past the queue at passport control so it can’t all be bad.

Many years ago when I was relatively new to a wheelchair I had an eventful exit from the Gare du Nord – the Paris Eurostar terminal. First, one of the lifts had stuck so the authorities reversed an escalator to take me down to the platform. I had four officials supporting me sitting in my chair. That was spectacular, but Gallic rail security wreaked its revenge when a small sniffer dog cocked its leg alongside my chair… I won’t recount the rest of the tale but it may not have wagged for some time.

Maybe I’m being greedy, but wouldn’t it be nice if disabled passengers could have the same concessions on Eurostar as with National Rail?

PNC