The government has revealed the 73 rail stations that will benefit from major improvements under its Access for All accessibility programme over the next five years.
The Department for Transport (DfT) also confirmed the announcement made in last July’s Inclusive Transport Strategy that it would spend £300 million on improvements such as lifts and footbridges between 2019-20 and the end of March 2024.
Each of the 73 stations – subject to a “feasible design being possible” – will see “an accessible route into the station, as well as to and between every platform”.
The stations were selected following nominations from the rail industry, and based on criteria including the number of disabled people in the area, value for money, and proximity to a hospital.
They were also chosen to represent a “fair geographical spread” across England, Scotland and Wales, with the preferences of train operating companies taken into account.
Access for All work is already ongoing at another 24 stations.
In addition to the major work at the 73 stations, £20 million of the funding will be used to re-launch the Mid-Tier Access for All programme, which will focus on stations where access improvements can be delivered for between £250,000 and £1 million.
DfT will seek nominations for which stations should receive this funding.
The announcement of which stations will benefit from Access for All funding in the next five years was welcomed by Transport for All, the user-led charity which campaigns on accessible transport in London.
Alan Benson, TfA’s chair, said: “We know that access to public transport is vital for improving eveybody’s life chances.
“This is particularly true for disabled and older people.
“This significant investment is warmly welcomed and will undoubtedly make a positive contribution to improving access to our railways.
“Government figures show that for every pound invested in rail improvements there is a return of £6, so it’s not just the right thing to do but it makes economic sense too.
“However, it remains that four in five of our stations on the largely Victorian infrastructure still do not have step free access, including some major landmarks such as Luton.
“This has to change and as rapidly as possible.
“We also know that previous awards under the Access for All programme have been deferred or delayed when the purse strings have been tightened.
“We will be watching very closely to see that this pattern of behaviour is not repeated.”
The funding was also welcomed by transport access campaigner Doug Paulley.
He said: “I welcome improvements of accessibility of railway infrastructure: the accessibility problems caused by the legacy non-standard station design as a result of having the oldest railway in the world limit disabled people’s independent transport to a massive and unacceptable extent.
“I hope that this set of Access for All funding doesn’t suffer the same uncertainty, cuts and delays as the last lot; also, that where possible there will be step free access from the station entrance to the train, not just to the platform.”
But he also said that any improvements to physical access would only benefit disabled people if the “human services surrounding them are sufficient”.
He said the Office of Rail and Road had pointed to significant inaccuracies in public information about the accessibility of stations, for example with access improvement at Hexham and Hebden Bridge stations, which had not initially been noted by National Rail Enquiries.
Paulley added: “It is also sad that current industry drives to remove the guaranteed presence of guards on trains may well make otherwise accessible stations inaccessible to a lot of disabled people, which undermines physical improvements such as these.”
Official documents revealed last summer that the government had repeatedly ignored concerns raised by its own accessible transport advisers, the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC), about the “toxic” impact on disabled people of running trains without a member of customer service staff on board.
Last July’s announcement that the government would spend £300 million over five years followed years of funding cuts to Access for All, originally introduced by a Labour government in 2006.
Disability News Service secured figures last July through a freedom of information request that showed that spending on Access for All fell from as much as £81.1 million in 2013-14 to just £14.6 million in 2017-18.
Spending in 2009-10, the last year of the Labour government, was £53.9 million, with £41.2 million in 2010-11, £50.7 million in 2011-12, £39.7 million in 2012-13, and £81.1 million in 2013-14.
But spending then plunged over the next four years – in the first five-year planning period to begin under the coalition – with just £22.9 million in 2014-15, £24.6 million in 2015-16, £32.1 million in 2016-17 and only £14.6 million in 2017-18.
Although it is not yet clear how much was spent in 2018-19, the government is now planning to spend £300 million over the next five years on Access for All, including £50 million that had been deferred from the last five years.
Keith Richards, chair of DPTAC, welcomed the funding announcement.
He said: “The Access for All programme has already delivered significant improvements in access to rail travel for disabled people over the last 13 years. It’s crucial to continually build on that.
“The announcement is very welcome and must go hand-in-hand with clear and practical information to ensure that disabled people are aware of what improvements have been made, and that more travel options are now possible as a result.
“We are working with the government to deliver a commitment to accelerate improvements, to target the funding effectively, and to monitor and assess outcomes."
Nusrat Ghani, the transport accessibility minister, said: “We want the 13.9 million disabled people in Britain to be empowered to travel independently, which is why I am delighted to announce this roll out of upgrades across the rail network.
“Over the next five years these newly accessible stations will open up routes across the country, helping us move closer to a transport sector that is truly accessible.”
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com