‘They’ve had 10 years’: Greater Anglia misses accessibility deadline
- Credit: Archant
Rail operator Greater Anglia is one of a number around the country that will miss the Government's deadline to make trains accessible for everyone, despite having a decade to prepare.
New accessibility standards on rail travel will come into force on January 1, 2020, but Greater Anglia is one of nine operators who will miss that target.
In a letter to the Rail Delivery Group chief executive Paul Plummer, Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris said that the industry's failure to meet the deadline was "extremely disappointing" as "owners and operators have had 10 years to prepare".
In response, Mr Plummer said that the industry is "very sorry that problems with the manufacturers of new and upgraded carriages mean some have been delayed".
Greater Anglia has been badly affected by such issues - problems with the new fleet of electric trains from Swiss company Stadler have contributed to weeks of delays and cancellations across the firm's networks.
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The operator says signalling issues have been behind the disruption, but train software issues and problems with how the new trains communicate with the rail system through track sensors have also had an effect.
Along with Greater Anglia, eight others have missed the deadline, including Northern, Transport for Wales, East Midlands Railway, ScotRail, London Overground, West Midlands Trains, Great Western Railway and Chiltern Railways.
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Mr Heaton-Harris has "reluctantly agreed" to allow operators to continue to use around 1,200 non-compliant trains for now.
He said banning them would have a "disproportionately negative effect" on the UK rail network.
A spokesperson for Greater Anglia said: "We have a temporary extension, along with other train operating companies, from the Department for Transport to meet new accessibility requirements, recognising that our new trains currently being manufactured will comply with new legislation.
"We are committed to making our railway more accessible. We have already introduced new trains with gold standard accessibility features on the majority of our rural routes across the network. We consulted with disabled rail passengers and professionals on the design of our new trains and ramps.
"Our Stadler trains have a retractable step at every door which bridges the gap between the train and the platform, giving level access, transforming the experience of customers with mobility issues, who can now board the train independently.
"We are replacing every single train on our network with brand new trains which meet the latest accessibility requirements. We put the order in for these as soon as we were awarded a long-term franchise in October 2016. At the same time, we have also modified many of our old electric trains to improve accessibility features on them."
'They've had long enough to get their act together'
UEA postgraduate researcher and regular Greater Anglia customer Anna Wall said that the company "shouldn't be allowed to get away with" not meeting the Government's accessibility deadline.
Miss Wall, 25, travels regularly between Norwich and London, and has been unable to board numerous pre-booked trains in the past due to the lack of an accessible carriage.She understood that problems with the new trains had delayed Greater Anglia's progress, but still believed that accessibility on public transport was an issue that should have been resolved long ago.
She said: "We're getting to 2020 and this is only just being instigated now. The fact that train companies, even at this late stage, are being allowed to not adhere to it is ridiculous. They've had long enough to get their act together.
"My ability to get on a train is still not enshrined in law in 2020, and that's absurd.
"Public transport should be public transport - it should be accessible to everyone. These laws are coming in, and Greater Anglia shouldn't be allowed to get away with not meeting them."