South Western Railway launches 10 minutes’ notice assistance scheme

·2 min read
<span>Photograph: James Lesser/Alamy</span>
Photograph: James Lesser/Alamy

Disabled or elderly passengers who need assistance to board trains will be able to turn up and travel rather than book six hours ahead, under a scheme launched by South Western Railway.

The launch of “assisted boarding points” at stations on SWR, one of Britain’s biggest networks, allows passengers to contact a customer service team who then alert the guard on the next available train to ensure assistance is provided.

SWR said the service would require only 10 minutes’ notice. Standard industry practice is usually to request bookings the day before travel if possible to guarantee assistance.

The points, to be rolled out on all platforms across SWR’s 189 stations in the coming months, will include clear signage with a QR code that customers scan to send details of their journey and the type of assistance they require, such as a wheelchair ramp or visual impairment support.

The rail network described the scheme as an industry first that would make travel more accessible and the provision of assistance more efficient.

A spokesman said: “We know that not every journey is planned in advance, and indeed they shouldn’t have to be. We’re proud to be launching this industry-first service, which will make it markedly easier for our customers who require assistance to travel with minimum fuss or difficulty.”

Campaigners welcomed the scheme, but pointed out it would only help those with smartphones, and there was still much to do to ensure accessible travel.

Alan Benson, who sits on SWR’s accessibility panel and chairs Transport for All, has tested the assisted boarding point at his local station, Teddington in south-west London. He said: “Getting help on and off the train is vital for disabled people travelling, and this is the most common source of problems. Anything that makes this easier has to be welcomed.

“Other schemes set disabled people apart from other people’s travel experience. All across the country you have rail companies coming up with ideas to tackle a problem that we think should not be there. Given that caveat, SWR’s is probably the best of those.”

Katie Pennick, the campaigns lead at Transport for All, said current national schemes and apps, such as Passenger Assistance, often failed to guarantee help, adding that staff shortages during the pandemic had worsened the situation. “There are no shortage of horror stories. In an ideal world – certainly in an accessible world – disabled people would be able to travel with the same ease and spontaneity as anyone else, and independently.”

Both Benson and Pennick said major investment and commitment in the UK were needed to create level boarding between platforms and trains, in order to allow many passengers, particularly wheelchair users, to travel independently.

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