21 May 2012 APRS is it on the right track??
Due to a lot of negative opinions I have heard during my time of being a Trailblazer in regards to the assisted passenger reservation system, I thought it was time I investigate this a little bit further. This brought me to Preston station in Lancashire which is a medium sized station, which due to its proximity to Manchester and Blackpool is a very busy and important station in the North of England. Due to links I had built with my railway work in the past I managed to get permission off Sue Howarth the North Region manager for Virgin to meet staff and management at the station.
The first person I spoke to was a woman named Vicky who was working at the information kiosk she came across really friendly and helpful. I asked her the process they use to provide support for disabled passengers requiring assistance which she explained to me.
Basically requests come through the internet and the night manager works a rota system and assigns each request to a member of staff. Then when that member of the public arrives and notifies the information kiosk, or member of staff they will radio to get the appropriate person to come and provide assistance.
As we were talking at the desk a man came over to complain ironically about the service they and their disabled partner were given, but this was at Blackpool station where they were called stupid by the member of staff. However the staff at Preston diffused the situation and were very helpful. There was a lot of phone calls too with people appearing on the day and the staff providing them assistance.
Finally the person I had came to meet Carol Bowen who was the team leader on duty that day was available. She took me up to her office so we could discuss matters further. She reiterated what Vicky had told me about the process, and hen I started asking some questions about the layout of the station. Preston has 8 platforms which all have lift access and some have underpass access. So the obvious question was how do people get across the station when lifts were out of order? I was surprised to hear that their solution is to let the signal operators know and divert the train to another platform.
The problem with stations such as Preston and my home town Carlisle is the age of the buildings they are old and probably require an infrastructure overhaul, but this of course costs money so in a lot of ways staff have a hard job with the facilities available to them.
I asked for some examples of when things don’t go to plan and accidents have occurred and the main one which springs to mind that she mentioned was due to staff being taught to take wheelchairs down a ramp backwards. However the carer with a person wasn’t having any of it and pushed their dependant down forwards and it resulted in an accident which injured the wheelchair user. The member of staff maybe should have been a bit more vocal and made sure they went down the ramp correctly. Then I asked about people showing up without booking assistance and I was told that most of the time this is fine, but if a train doesn’t have any wheelchair spaces available or the there are a lot of delayed trains this can be a problem for staff.
On the whole this meeting has opened my eyes not just what fellow disabled people go through to get on a train service but the staff as well. In my brief time at Preston the staff all seemed really good and helpful but I would be foolish to think this is the case on the whole railway network. The conversation mentioned before in regards to the Blackpool staff just shows that. But things must be gradually getting better with more disabled rail users then there has ever been using trains.
So over to you can fellow Trailblazers let me know of experiences good and bad? I will try and get an answer on everyone’s behalf from the respective train operators.
Thanks to Sue Howarth from Virgin and Vicky, Ian and Carol from Preston Station for their time and interest.
More blogs regarding APRS coming up in the future.