How accessible are Britain’s railway stations?

A consultation on changes to the Disabled People’s Protection Policy (DPPP) Guidance for train and railway station operators has recently closed. The rail regulator, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) will report back on the consultation in Spring 2019. ORR states that a DPPP, “sets out, amongst other things, the arrangements and assistance that an operator will provide to protect the interests of disabled people using its services and to facilitate such use.”

This Insight looks at how accessible Britain’s railway stations are for people with disabilities and what data is available via region.

How to measure accessibility?

Information on the level of access to railway stations for people with disabilities in Britain is made available through the National Rail Enquiries (NRE) ‘Knowledgebase’, which is described as:

“A database of static information about the facilities at each of the 2,500+ stations on the network, including specific information about available facilities for those with accessibility needs. Whilst this data is held centrally in the NRE Knowledgebase, it is kept up-to-date by each of the TOCs [Train Operation Companies] responsible for operating and maintaining the stations.”

The NRE Knowledgebase contains around 15 possible accessibility identifiers for each station. In this analysis, we have focused on those most consistently recorded across stations. They show whether a station provides: hearing induction loops, accessible ticket machines and ticket offices (for example, height-adjustable ticket office counters), ramps to access trains, ‘National Key’ disabled toilets (accessed with a key), step-free access and impaired mobility set-down and pick-up points. The latter includes clearly marked car passenger drop-off zones where blue badge holders can wait, or assistance to and from a car park or taxi rank.

By utilising the data made available through NRE’s Knowledgebase, it is possible to show how many stations are accessible for people with disabilities or reduced mobility.

How many stations provide disability access?

The provision of access for people with disabilities or reduced mobility can vary considerably across Britain, depending on what type of access is considered.

As of January 2019, all stations provide at least one type of disability access, as hearing induction loops are available in all stations across Great Britain.  Around 190 stations (7%) have no other disability provision except for the hearing induction loops. Just under half of stations (1,217) provide two or three types of accessibility and around 360 (14%) provide six or seven of the disability access identifiers we have looked at.

Train station disability access Britain

While all stations across Britain provide hearing induction loops, only one in five provide an accessible ticket office or disabled toilets run as part of the National Key scheme. Train ramp provision is generally high (second only to induction hearing loops) with around three in four stations providing access; this is particularly true in the North East, North West, Wales and Yorkshire and the Humber regions where access was almost universal.

Scotland has the lowest proportion of stations providing disability access on three of the seven measures used here: train ramp access (35%), National Key toilets (4%) and mobility set-down (10%).

Variation also exists within each country and region. For example, 89% of stations within the South East of England provide accessible ticket machines, with West Sussex providing complete provision. This compares to the Isle of Wight where only 13% (just over one in ten) stations have accessible ticket machines.

In the East Midlands, two in ten stations provide National Key scheme disabled toilets, although in Northamptonshire half of all stations do. Leicestershire provides the second highest level of provision in the East Midlands with three in ten stations providing National Key toilets, whereas in Derbyshire less than one in ten (8%) provide access.

Two counties (West Glamorgan and Gloucestershire) each appear three times among the top five counties for all disability provisions bar hearing-induction loops.

Disability access at train stations.

How many people can easily reach stations with disabled access?

The following maps indicate the coverage of disabled access provision across Britain. Specifically, they show areas (shaded green) which are within a 20 minute drive of a station providing each of the disability access types considered in this Insight. Each green dot on the map represents a station with disability provision, and the thin grey lines indicate railway lines.

Obviously, people living in some areas of Britain will always have to travel for longer than 20 minutes to reach any station – for example those that live in the Welsh Valleys, the Yorkshire Dales, south Scotland and the Scottish Highlands. Overall, this is around 1.4 million people (2% of the British mid-2016 population).

For most people, however, they are never further than a maximum of 20 minutes’ drive from a station which provides at least some sort of disability provision. For example, around 97% of people are within 20 minutes of a station which provides step-free access, although that still means nearly 1.9 million people would have to drive more than 20 minutes to reach one.

The Government has acknowledged that people with disabilities or reduced mobility do not always have equal access at railway stations (and other forms of transport) across Britain. In July 2018, the Government published its Inclusive Transport Strategy, which aims to make transport fully accessible for all passengers by 2030. The strategy has provided funds for Network Rail to improve accessibility at stations across Britain. These have been used towards Network Rail’s ‘Access for All Programme,’ which aims to “provide an obstacle free, accessible route to and between platforms.”

Data from the National Rail Enquiries Knowledgebase is only available through an XML API feed. For guidance on how to access this data yourself please see the R package ‘nrstations’.

Noel Dempsey is a Senior Library Clerk at the House of Commons Library, specialising in transport. 

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