Wheelchair access to new Waratah trains in NSW

There’s some controversy today over the boarding procedures for the new Waratah trains, to be delivered to RailCorp in NSW starting in late 2010.

Wheelchair-users will have to flash cards to board trains

  • Wheelchair-users forced to wave cards
  • They will have to wait at end of platforms
  • Move slammed as “embarrassing”

A RAIL operator wants commuters in wheelchairs to wave a “high-visibility” card to warn train guards they need a boarding ramp.

Disability groups are outraged that wheelchair-bound passengers in Sydney will now have to wait towards the end of the train platform – without shelter or safety lighting – in a so-called BAZ area (boarding assistant zone).

Read the full news.com.au article here.

I note that much of the criticism stems from the proposal for ‘wheelchair bound’ passengers to carry a flag or card to alert station staff or guards to their need to board. Personally, I’m not overly bothered by that. Because I don’t speak, I already carry a series of tags around my neck, stating where I want to go and what train I want to catch. Another (and one that is universally recognised by staff) is no big deal for me.

However… I also see that the new Waratah trains will have the guard in the rear cabin of the train. To me, that seems a major error. Currently, at most stations, wheelchair users are assisted to board by the station staff, not the guard. You need to go to the platform office and bang on the door to get attention and they bring out the ramp. Most platform offices are located (sensibly) in the middle of the platform. And guards are located in the middle cabin. That makes it a very short wheel from the office to the train. But now, we will have to alert the staff, and then push our way back down the full length of the platform to the guard’s cabin. On a busy platform, with many people rushing to board, this is going to be slow, hazardous and impractical.

I suspect what will happen is that wheelchair users will be asked to wait for the next train if times are tight or we will continue boarding in the middle carriage, far distant from the guard. Neither is a good option. Being distant from the guard increases the chance of being left on the train when your stop comes, and if you are not near the guard’s cabin, it’s very hard to alert them to the problem. Security too, is better near the guard’s cabin.

The end of 2010 is fast approaching. This needs some quick attention.

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