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Rail travel tips for people with disabilities

Rail Traveling with Physical Disabilities

According to the UK government, there were more than 11.9 million people with some form of disability living in the United Kingdom in 2011/2012 (Gov.uk, 2014).  The Papworth Trust (2013) estimates that of more than half of disabled people (56%) in the United Kingdom have an impairment that affects their mobility.  Approximately 8% of people with a disability are confined to a wheel-chair (Papworth Trust, 2013). Given the high numbers of people with a physical impairment, it is obvious that having accessible transport options available is very important.  Governments, rail networks and train companies around the world have received the message loud and clear and been working to improve accessibility options in the past few decades.  However, accessibility is still very much a work in progress.  Written by Northern Rail, here are some tips to help you prepare for your train journey and enjoy a smooth trip. 

Preparing to Travel Via Train
It is now very easy for people with limited mobility to travel by rail in most parts of the United Kingdom.  Governments have been legislating requirements for improved accessibility options in carparks, on train platforms and within train carriages for a number of years.  However, it is still important to plan your trip to avoid any issues on the day. When planning a rail trip, you should research the available facilities at the beginning and end points of your trip.  Most European railways have accessibility information posted online, which details the extent of accessibility options at each station including car parks, ramps and train boarding options. The national rail website has a search function which can allow people with disabilities to check the facilities at each station in the United Kingdom.

The website will share information including:

  • Phone numbers for the railway station and helpline
  •  Availability of staff help and times when staff are present
  •  Ramp access
  • Step free access coverage
  • Wheelchair availability 

A station map is also usually included for each station.  It can help you identify the precise location of ramps and estimate the distance you need to travel to get from the car park to train. Planning ahead also allows you to identify any potential problems.  For example, different train companies have different policies on mobility scooters.  Because mobility scooters come in such a wide range of shapes and sizes, they can be more difficult to manoeuvre on a train or safely use on a ramp.  If you use a mobility scooter or powered wheelchair, consider calling the train company to find out if you can board the train without any problems. 

Other considerations which may potentially cause problems include:

  • The width of your wheelchair   Most train companies accommodate wheelchairs of a standard size (700 mm wide by 1200 mm long) however some older carriages may have issues with the width of wheelchairs.
  • The combined weight of you and your wheelchair it should be below the safe working load of any ramps (between 230 kg and 300 kg)
  • The number of available spaces for wheelchair users on a train is limited.

All of these potential problems can be avoided by calling the train company or station in before you travel.  In the United Kingdom, The Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) has provided a map of the mainland railway network which have accessibility options.  The map is available on the National Railway Website.  The website also provides contact information for the train operators, so you can call ahead and make sure that your wheelchair or mobility scooter can fit on the train. 

Obtaining Help at the Station

If you believe you will need help on the day, you should book assistance in advance.  By calling ahead, a member of staff will be ready to help you navigate the platform and get onto train safely.  This is a particularly useful option for anyone who is wheelchair bound, has a visual impairment, has difficulty walking long distances or uses a mobility scooter.   Some railway platforms have their own mobility devices to save you walking long distances through crowded environments.  If you normally use a heavy mobility scooter or electric wheelchair, temporarily using a standard wheelchair for the train trip may be a good idea to avoid potential problems.    Many platforms have assistance available if you run into trouble, but this is not always the case.  If you have an issue on the day, speak to a member of staff, go to the ticket office or use a phone helpline.   Researching the facilities at the station and booking ahead is always recommended.  You should always avoid using platforms that do not have help staff available. Dont forget that people with disabilities in the United Kingdom may be eligible for a Disabled Persons Railcard.  For £20 a year, the card gives you a 1/3 discount on many types of rail trips throughout the UK. 


Papworth Trust,. (2013). Disability in the United Kingdom 2013 (1st ed.). Retrieved from http://www.papworthtrust.org.uk/sites/default/files/Facts%20and%20Figures%202013%20web.pdf

Gov.uk,. (2014). Disability facts and figures - GOV.UK. Retrieved 12 August 2015, from https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/disability-facts-and-figures/disability-facts-and-figures


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