Can't rely on London Midland:How staff cuts and technical failures dump on disabled and vulnerable rail passengers
This weekend my wife and I returned from a weekend in Liverpool where I had been speaking at a GMB Justice Campaign conference.
My wife is recovering from a stroke and we use the passenger assistance service to travel by train as she needs a little help boarding trains and avoids using stairs.
This weekend we got a good service when we boarded the train at midday on a Friday in Berkhamsted and a good service at London Euston and Liverpool Lime Street on the way up and at Liverpool Lime Street and Milton Keynes where we changed trains on Sunday on the way back.
But the support fell apart when we returned to Berkhamsted ( a town with 27,000 people) just before seven o'clock on Sunday evening. I am writing about what happened here because it has wider implications for rail travel and what steps rail companies take to protect people in an emergency.
Berkhamsted Station has recently installed lifts to aid the disabled, people with heavy luggage and families with pushchairs to get from the platforms to the subway below.
When we got to Berkhamsted there was no one there to help my wife off the train and the lift was out of order. But it didn't say it was out of order. Instead you could access the lift to go down to the subway. It just wouldn't respond to go down to the subway.
Thinking this should be reported I pressed the alarm. Immediately I got an automated message saying " don't panic" and then the lift dialed an emergency number. There was no reply. I repeated the exercise still no reply. Luckily the doors had not closed or else we would have been trapped inside the lift until some one rescued us.
On the platform there is also an automatic system for passengers to contact someone should they need emergency assistance. I pressed that. Believe it or not I got message saying the number was unobtainable. So if say someone had been assaulted or sexually attacked on the platform - the emergency assistance system was faulty
When we eventually got off the station ( there is another roundabout route down a ramp through a station car park ) I found a notice on the ticket office saying there it had closed all day Sunday - so there had been no staff at the station all day.
What has shocked me is that London Midland seem to have no " duty of care" to passengers - and their systems which are supposed to work when they are no staff - appear to be just there for show.
We did meet one member of London Midland staff working that night - a man on the train from Milton Keynes to Berkhamsted checking tickets. So the company gave more priority to making sure it got all its revenue on Sunday for its shareholders and directors - than bothering to provide staff or checking that emergency procedures worked to aid its passengers. And with plans to get rid of guards and close as many ticket offices as possible it can only get worse.
I have written to London Midland for an explanation and look forward to their reply.