Train in Paddington station

Helen Dolphin’s tips for travelling by train

Although travelling by car usually offers the most convenient option, there are times when train travel can actually be easier, cheaper, or simply more relaxing. For example, if I’m going to London from my home in Norwich, it is far easier for me to travel by train as parking in the capital can be problematic and congestion can make a very short journey take a very long time. Train travel is also a very enjoyable way to see more of the countryside and it means you can get on with doing a bit of work or reading a book.

Getting the best price

Train travel can be quite expensive but there are ways you can help reduce your ticket price. It is always better to buy in advance as buying your ticket on the day is more expensive. You can buy in advance from your local railway station or book online through your train operator. If you don’t know who operates the route for the journey you are planning or your journey involves several different operators, go to the national rail website www.nationalrail.co.uk which will direct you to the operator you should book through. Beware of some train booking websites as they may charge you a booking fee.

Investigate whether a railcard could be an option. There is a cost upfront to buy a railcard, but they can save you a third off the ticket price, so may be worthwhile if you regularly travel by train. If you are in receipt of a specific benefit or have a visual or hearing impairment or epilepsy, you may qualify for the Disabled Persons Railcard, you can check if you are eligible here. As well as enabling the disabled passenger to get a third off their ticket price The Disabled Persons Railcard also enables their companion to get a third off their ticket price too. To apply for a Railcard you need to fill in the application form available on the disabled persons railcard website. If you don’t qualify for a Disabled Persons Railcard and are 60 or over you would be eligible for a Senior Railcard. To find out more on all the railcards available, visit www.railcard.co.uk.

Although Railcards are a great way to reduce the cost of your fare, they are not always necessary to get a discount. For example, people who travel in their wheelchair for the duration of their rail journey, or people who are registered as blind or visually impaired can qualify for concessionary discounts. For more detailed information on these discounts visit the national rail website.

Assistance

If you have a disability and need assistance getting on the train you will need to arrange this before you travel and most train companies ask for at least 24 hours’ notice. If your train journey involves several different train companies, you only need to contact one train company and they will organise assistance for your entire journey. You can book assistance by phone on the National Freephone Passenger Assist Number 0800 022 3720 or online with the train company directly or by using this website.

As a wheelchair user I always book to have someone put the ramps down for my outward journey. However, it can be difficult to book for my return as I don’t always know what time train I’ll be getting on. However, as long as I’ve turned up with plenty of time I’ve never had a problem finding someone to do the ramps for me even if I haven’t booked. As well as booking ramps you can also book help with carrying luggage and have someone accompany you to your train.

There have been several reports in newspapers of wheelchair and scooter users being left stranded on trains when booked assistance has not turned up. In the past it has happened to me, however it has got a lot better in recent years. I have found that if the train is at its final stop, cleaning staff usually turn up quite quickly and they can summon assistance for you. However, if nobody comes, try phoning up the assistance booking line on your phone or the station directly. For peace of mind, you can also ask the guard when they’re passing through the train if you’re worried about help at the station that you are getting off at.

It is hoped that a new smart phone app, currently being trialled by four rail companies, will take away a lot of the stress disabled passengers currently experience whilst travelling on trains. The app, developed by Transreport will allow users to create a profile, amend and cancel bookings and give staff live information on where a passenger is at any point, which should mean they know where you are even if your train is delayed or you miss a connection. If the trial is a success, the app should be available across Britain from this autumn. Although the “Passenger assist” section of the app is in development you can still use Transreport to send photos, videos and comments of problems affecting your journey.

Travelling with your wheelchair

Most trains are able to accommodate wheelchairs that are within the dimensions prescribed in government regulations covering public transport (700mm wide by 1200mm long). However, there are a very small number of older trains that can only carry wheelchairs that have a maximum width of 550mm. If you are concerned that your wheelchair is too wide, check with passenger assistance before you travel. When you are on the train you will find a number of spaces set aside for wheelchair users. As these spaces are limited it is advisable to book wherever possible as if all the spaces are taken you may not be able to travel.

Travelling with a scooter

It is a little more complicated if you are travelling with a mobility scooter as each train company tends to have a different policy about their carriage. This is because mobility scooters come in a larger variety of shapes and sizes than wheelchairs and so there have been problems such as tipping backwards on ramps and scooters being heavier than the ramp’s safe working load. These problems mean that some companies have trains that cannot carry scooters so if you are a scooter-user who wants to travel by rail, you should contact the train operator to check they can safely accommodate your scooter.

Arriving at the station

Depending on how close you live to the train station you may decide to drive, get a taxi or go by bus. If you drive it is helpful to know in advance what parking facilities are available. You can find this out by visiting the nation rail website and insert the station name. Most stations will have parking for Blue Badge holders, but the parking is often very limited and gets filled up very quickly.

Most trains will have general toilets and a disabled toilet for customers to use. There have been a few reports in the past of broken disabled toilets on trains, so if this is a concern of yours do check before you get on the train that everything is in working order.

I’ve always found staff on the train more than happy to help get me refreshments and ensure there is assistance to meet me at the other end. So, if you have a long journey coming up that you don’t want to drive, or just fancy a change, then I would really recommend going by train.

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