Network Rail’s North West route has entered a legally binding agreement with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) after it failed to make reasonable adjustments for disabled users during a refurbishment.
The agreement follows EHRC becoming aware of a number of incidents involving disabled users during refurbishment works at Manchester Victoria station in September 2019.
While lifts were out of action, wheelchair users had to drag themselves up steps to access the station or use a stair-climber, which caused a number of disabled people considerable distress.
EHRC said before the refurbishment project at Manchester Victoria started, Network Rail failed to complete a Disability Impact Assessment and consult with disabled passengers or groups, to determine whether arrangements to replace the lifts were appropriate.
As a result, the assistance available was unsuitable. A lack of clear signage and communication also meant that disabled passengers were not aware of any support that was available. We consider that Network Rail breached its legal obligations to make reasonable adjustments for disabled users.
Alastair Pringle, executive director at the EHRC, said: ‘For many people, public transport can be your gateway to the world.
‘It may well be how you get to school or work. It may be how you go to hospital or how you visit friends and family. This is why transport operators have clear responsibilities in law to ensure travel is just as possible for disabled people as for everyone else.
‘When that doesn’t happen, the impact on disabled people can be disastrous.
‘By signing this agreement, Network Rail has committed to improve its efforts to protect disabled people from discrimination when carrying out improvement works in stations, and we hope it prevents anyone experiencing the upsetting scenes at Manchester Victoria.
‘As we emerge from lockdown, as we see further measures put in place to support social distancing, we need to ensure that the idea of equal access to travel is at the heart of planning for all public transport providers. We must ensure that no one gets left behind.’
Network Rail is now taking steps to make appropriate reasonable adjustments during refurbishment projects, following consultation and agreement with user groups and stakeholders.
It will also ensure that a Diversity Impact Assessment is carried out at an early stage of every refurbishment project life-cycle. And implement a new communications plan to ensure that clear, concise and timely communications accompany lift renewal schemes in order to minimise the impact to passengers of reduced mobility.
Phil James, North West route director, said: ‘Last year we replaced the lifts at Manchester Victoria station. Lack of available lift engineers led to us closing all three lifts at the same time during this work.
‘This was the wrong thing to do and we are deeply sorry for the distress and inconvenience this caused mobility-assisted passengers.
‘We’ve learnt from this and have worked collaboratively with the EHRC to put plans in place to consult with mobility-assisted passengers in advance of any future accessibility improvements at North West stations.’
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