trains . accessibility & appreciation

Despite COVID-19 increasing time taken by seven months, I travelled to all 81 rail stations in Merseyside (in addition to 10 on the Merseyrail route while in the counties of Lancashire and Cheshire). Naively, a month before the first lockdown, I plotted a route estimated to take ten hours across a single day, to then find it closer to thirty over seven months, something only Northern rail is normally capable of achieving!

If Merseyside had the rate of service that London has, I would have easily covered it in under ten hours, however, services in the area averaged 2-3 trains an hour, slowing my connections and resulting in a lot of waiting! On my first day in February 2020, I travelled for nine hours, covering 40-or-so stations, many of which formed the entirety of the Wirral, an area of aquatic marshes and aesthetic sea views galore.

Forlorn by my (relative) lack of success, I headed home and, distracted by work and university, was unable to finish Merseyside before the first lockdown, instead of finishing the remaining stations, most of which were in East Merseyside, across two days in sunny September, mask equipped. Happy with this success, I made plans to begin covering the remainder of the English, then UK rail stations, starting with counties closest to my hometown, however, two lockdowns occurred since those could become possible.

It has been strange not travelling on trains for so long, albeit, it will also feel that once we are all back to normality! I think that I have forgotten how to have face-to-face conversations with everyone but my partner, given how long everyone has been inside. Necessary for all but challenging for most.

Now though, let us re-route to talking about accessibility on trains. Though newer trains entering the network, for instance on Merseyrail, have more carriage space for manoeuvrability and automatic, wide-opening doors, archaic platform design creates platform-carriage gaps of over forty centimetres. Design that historically made many stations inaccessible for those with disabilities, barely improved by metal ramps as advance notice and staff availability was critical for their deployment.

However, newer trains on the network will be equipped with sensor-operated lowering floors and ramps that remove the need for manual clip-on ramps, improving some elements of inaccessibility, though these, scheduled for operation in 2020, have been delayed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. And taking into consideration how much of the national network is comprised of inaccessible Victorian stations and disabled-unfriendly carriages, there is clearly room for change.

On a positive note though, policies around rail accessibility continue to encourage a disability-inclusive network to evolve. Additionally, collaboration in regular consultation between those with disabilities, activists and designers enables future infrastructure to function accessibly. So, though we have far to go, the route is lined in optimism.

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