Rail regulator introduces new guidance to help stop disabled passengers being stranded on their journey

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The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has today announced new safeguarding measures to improve reliability of over a million requests for passenger assistance received each year on Britain’s railways. 

The new rules are now in force for all train and station operating companies following a successful trial by Network Rail, GTR and South West Railway. The requirements focus on improving the way staff communicate and coordinate passenger assistance between stations. 

This should help prevent assistance failures and drive up the reliability of the service.

Train and station operators must now have:

  • A dedicated assistance telephone number for every station;
  • A ‘Responsible Person’ for every station who will ensure calls to those numbers are answered and;
  • A Handover Protocol to ensure that when those calls are answered, the essential information needed to coordinate the assistance delivery is provided, such as the passenger’s assistance need, what train they are travelling on and their location on the train. 

These new requirements are the result of extensive ORR research and consultation with industry into the primary causes of passenger assistance failures. This found that too often train and station operators were relying on informal and inconsistent processes to communicate and coordinate assistance between the passenger’s boarding and alighting stations. These information failures all too frequently ended with assistance staff not being in the right place at the right time to deliver the alighting assistance.  

In many cases station staff were either unsure of what number to call to start the handover process; or when they did know, there would be no answer. 

In other cases there was insufficient information given on the handover call to ensure that there was adequate assistance when the passenger arrived at their destination.

Now when a passenger needs assistance, the boarding station will know exactly what number to call to reach the passenger’s alighting station; have certainty that it will be answered and; know precisely what information they must provide to enable the alighting station to deliver the assistance in a safe and timely way. 

James Taylor, Executive Director, Scope said: 

"A genuinely accessible public transport network could make a huge difference to disabled people’s lives. As it is today, disabled people take a gamble with every journey they make.

"It’s great to see that the rail industry is taking steps to improve service provision for some disabled people. Improving the reliability of assistance provision and communications between stations has the potential to dramatically improve passenger experience. We hope that these changes will pave the way for disabled passengers to be able to travel with confidence in the service they are promised."

Stephen Brookes MBE, Rail Sector Champion for the Minister for Disabled People said: 

"As Rail Sector Champion a regular feedback to me is that a key area of concern for most disabled people using assisted travel by rail is inconsistent messaging. The work of ORR on improving consistent communication between stations for assistance support is most welcome. 

"The new ORR protocol will go a long way in assuring disabled people that their needs are being properly understood and delivered, and I am pleased to support this important industry initiative."

Stephanie Tobyn, Deputy Director, Consumers at ORR said: 

"ORR wants all passengers that require assistance to travel safely with confidence and ease. That is our expectation, irrespective of whether a passenger books assistance in advance of their journey or wishes to travel spontaneously and request assistance at the station.

"Where the promised assistance fails it is extremely stressful for passengers. These changes will ensure that passengers can have more confidence in train and station operators’ capacity to better coordinate and provide assistance reliably."
 

Notes to editors
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  • Updated Accessible Travel Policy guidance – handover protocol (Appendix C)
  • Over 1,200 assisted journeys were tracked during the trial to test the effectiveness of these new measures, and evidence showed significant improvements in the reliability of assistance and positive rail staff support for the changes.  
  • ORR created and chaired an industry working group to help devise solutions to shortcomings and then successfully trialled and tested them with selected train and station operators.