Advice on helping disabled train passengers ‘could’ve been better expressed’

Southern train
Southern train

Advice to train staff on how to help disabled passengers ‘could have been better expressed’, rail operator Govia Thameslink Railway has admitted.

The company, which runs Southern, Thameslink and Gatwick Express services, has been locked in a dispute with the RMT union over the further extension of driver-only operation (DOO) for more than two years.

Opponents of the changes, which makes drivers responsible for opening and closing train doors instead of guards, have argued they will result in fewer services having a guaranteed second member of staff on board.

They have raised concerns about the impact of this on accessibility and safety especially for disabled people. Details from Pitstop, an internal leaflet produced by GTR for staff on how to manage station dwell times, have come to light.

On a section about ‘assisting persons of reduced mobility’(PRM) the document tells staff: “Do not attempt to place PRM on train if there is a possibility of delaying a service.”

Another section on abnormal situations suggests ‘ill passengers need to be removed from the train as quickly as possible’.

If medical assistance is present, staff are told to explain how their first priority is to care for the individual, but not taking action will cause thousands of other passengers to be stuck on the trains. The leaflet adds: “This is a serious risk and may cause more casualties.”

A GTR spokesman said: “GTR continues to offer assistance to all passengers who need help with their journeys and this policy remains unchanged.

“We accept that the wording of an internal leaflet to station staff about helping passengers in the few minutes before a train is due to depart could have been better expressed and it has already been revised. We ask all passengers to give themselves plenty of time to arrive ahead of a train’s departure as we aim to ensure each service leaves on time for the benefit of all our customers.

“We have introduced several improvements for passengers with reduced mobility, such as platform humps between London Bridge and St Pancras, giving level access to the train, and these stations are staffed throughout the day.”

The Association of British Commuters, which has published a full copy of the leaflet on its website, said the document proves the argument it has been making for two years, that the removal of a guaranteed guard from the train ‘creates a loophole that will inevitably lead to institutionalised breaches of the Equality Act’.

The group argues that the leaflet dispels the myth that pre-booking will ensure successful journeys under DOO and it ‘does not consider taxis a reasonable adjustment, especially with the extended waiting times at unstaffed rural stations’.

Mick Cash, RMT general secretary, said: “I cannot believe in this day and age we are telling staff to ignore the needs of disabled people if the time it will take to deploy a ramp and assist them onto the train will cause a delay.”

Meanwhile he described the advice on dealing with ill passengers as ‘shocking’ and ‘an insult’.

The document was also raised in the House of Commons last week by Labour MP for York Central Rachael Maskell.

She asked ministers why they had not intervened and why GTR had been ‘allowed to get away with this direct disability discrimination’.

In response transport minister Nus Ghani, Wealden MP, said it was ‘not the best use of language’ and Department for Transport officials had spoken to

GTR and raised their

concerns, which had been listened to.

She added: “The leaflet is good overall, but the honourable lady is right to point out that one particular line was not appropriate, and it will be revised.”