Michael Fabricant has reacted with disbelief to a letter he has received
from the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Kim Howells
which, Michael Fabricant says: "tells the disabled to catch a bus, if they
can’t get on the train!" Michael Fabricant adds "I had written to the
Department of Transport when the Strategic Rail Authority said they had no
plans to upgrade facilities at railway stations in the midlands for the
disabled. I am particularly concerned with the situation at Lichfield Trent
Valley railway station on the west coast main line. It is impossible for
the disabled or those with heavy luggage to reach the London-bound platform
without climbing then descending a steep open-air footbridge. Railtrack had
planned to upgrade the facilities for the disabled and to provide proper
waiting room facilities. These plans were slashed when Stephen Byers had to
pay off Railtrack’s shareholders.
"The Government caused the problem yet now seem to be washing their hands
off the whole affair. How can they demand disabled access to customers of
cash-strapped small businesses while ignoring their obligations to public
transport? This is hypocrisy of the worst kind. Kim Howell’s letter is
typical of Labour ministerial double-speak and he has tried to pass the
buck. In it, he suggests that disabled passengers take alternative routes
including the bus! This would involve the disabled from Lichfield
travelling from Lichfield City station and changing trains in Birmingham
which would delay the journey by over an hour.
"I am now considering what steps to take next".
In his letter, Kim Howells wrote to Mr Fabricant:
"I should first explain that the Strategic Rail Authority’s Modern
Facilities At Stations programme, which had to be scaled down due to
budgetary constraints, provides enhancements to stations such as waiting
rooms, toilets, shelters, CCTV and improved customer information systems.
Upgrading access to the station and platforms is not within the scope of
this programme. However, the SRA is currently reviewing its Disabled Peoples
Protection Policies (DPPPs). This will provide an opportunity to identify
and prioritise accessibility improvements. As the SRA response highlighted,
implementation of accessibility schemes will be subject to the availability
of funding and is likely to take place over an extended period of years. As
the priorities for improvements have yet to be determined it is not possible
to predict if or when work on Lichfield Trent Valley Station will take
The SRA is working with the industry to improve the quality of service for
disabled rail passengers, using all the levers at its disposal. This
includes a determined effort to change staff attitudes and to encourage
improved information and assistance. For example, the Authority is reviewing
the system of booking and receiving staff assistance through the Disabled
Person’s Reporting System (DPRS). This will identify where the problems are
and enable the SRA to promote best practice amongst train" operators.
The SRA is also supporting the development of a national map of accessible
stations by the Association of Train Operators (A TOC). This will give
disabled people independent access to information about station
accessibility and help journey planning.
To make early progress and meet the needs of people with different
disabilities, the re- franchising programme will promote small-scale
improvements such as additional handrails, improved signage, and the removal
of kerbs. It will also encourage the provision of alternative accessible
transport (e.g. buses or taxis) where appropriate.
The SRA is committed to working proactively with Government (including
devolved bodies), transport providers and disabled people to provide a more
accessible transport network, with the greatest possible choice for disabled
people within the available resources."