The rail sector is currently experiencing something of a revival across Europe and beyond, and this popularity is helping to drive investment in accessible rolling stock across the international network. Understanding what is on offer is one way agents can help disabled travellers fulfil some of their holiday ambitions.
Rail Europe has been working with travel professionals to support rail bookings for over 90 years and sells around 2.5m train tickets a year. It partners with operators such as SNCF, SBB, Eurostar, Thalys, Trenitalia, Italo, DB, Renfe, ÖBB, SNCB, NS, OUIGO Spain and National Rail, and offers rail passes including the Swiss Travel Pass and Eurail Passes. Trisha Aswani, at Rail Europe, said: “Most modern European trains now have designated spaces for wheelchair users set near wheelchair-accessible toilets, and often alongside a “companion” seat too.”
Frustratingly though, she adds, standards vary from operator to operator and some rail operator online booking systems don’t incorporate wheelchair reservations so require a little extra work to secure.
SBB in Switzerland is among those which has made a lot of adjustments to trains, stations and passenger information. For example, there are low-floor carriages on all regional service routes, and an increasing amount of stations are now 100% accessible, with step-free access to the trains.
Eurostar, connecting London with Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam and beyond, has put much of its focus on providing added assistance. Eurostar Assist is a free service which can be booked in advance to provide smooth access to the train for those who are elderly or travelling with a physical or non-visible disability. Each departure has at least four wheelchair spaces, accessed via a ramp and located near the accessible toilets
There are similar wheelchair spaces on Thalys trains from Brussels to Amsterdam and Cologne, and on TGVs from Lille to destinations all over France, and from Paris to Switzerland & Milan.
In the UK, Caledonian Sleeper has added dedicated accessibility cabins on its London to Scotland route, with double beds, lowered washbasin and table, and wheelchair access to the Club Car and accessible toilet. Assistance dogs are welcome and digital signage appears in every carriage.
Further afield, The Ghan train in Australia offers Gold Access Cabins for the mobility impaired. Each has an adjustable table, two seats that convert to low level berths, and an ensuite with hand rails and shower chair
Amtrak in the USA has accessible bedrooms located on the entry-level of the trains with ample space for a wheelchair, plus a sofa and bunks, sink and toilet.
More to do…
While rail travel is getting easier, Disability Rights UK’s Anna Morell campaigns for more to be done across the travel industry.
She says: “There are professional access consultants all over the country, as well as disabled people’s organisations, and single-issue condition organisations which travel industry operators could approach for staff training and more information. Without tapping into the disabled consumer market, the travel industry is losing out on a sector that is worth £274 billion.”
Accessibility in action
A good sign: TUI has become the first UK tour operator to offer British Sign Language interpretation. In partnership with SignLive, customers can now have their conversations with TUI Accessibility teams interpreted into BSL free in real time via signlive.co.uk.
Heritage tours: Access For All UK has supported the North Yorkshire Moors Railway (NYMR) with free mentoring and training for a project to bring four accessible carriages on track. This is part of a long-term initiative to make the heritage railway accessible to all.