National Rail Accessibility Group
I am sorry that I am unable to be with you in person today but at least I can be with you virtually. I am sure that this new group will help in improving access to our rail network, something that the government takes very seriously.
I understand that you will be receiving a debrief from the train operators, following their sterling performance during this summer’s Olympic and Paralympic Games. Following this excellent result we need to consider what lessons can be learned for the everyday running of network, as we welcome ever increasing numbers of passengers, including those with disabilities.
As I am sure you are all aware, we have continued with our vital Access for All programme. This £370 million programme will see accessible routes installed at more than 150 stations by 2015. More than 1,000 stations have already benefitted from smaller scale access improvements delivered under the Small Schemes element of Access for All and last year we announced a further £37.5 million in a new mid-tier fund that will benefit around 160 stations, including more than 30 accessible routes.
In our view the programme has been a great success and that is why we therefore recently announced a further £100 million to extend it through to 2019.
We will soon begin working with Network Rail to identify stations for the extended programme, ensuring value for money by targeting busier stations, but also seeking the views of train operators and local authorities on their priorities.
In parallel, work is proceeding to make all trains fully accessible by 2020. The government has been working hard with industry and stakeholders for over five years to make sure everyone knows what work needs to take place and passengers are already seeing the benefits, eight years ahead of the deadline.
Over 5,700 fully accessible train carriages are already in service – this represents over 48% of all vehicles on the national rail network. And Thameslink, IEP and Crossrail will provide 2,400 more new fully accessible vehicles by the end of 2019. We mustn’t forget either that all older trains now provide some access features, such as priority seating or passenger information systems, even if they don’t yet fully meet all the standards.
Despite this progress, we recognise that there is still much work to do to make rail travel as seamless as possible. A key to this is the new Passenger Assist booking system, which I believe you’ll be hearing about today.
I see this new group as a welcome means of exchanging experiences, ideas and best practice between rail users and providers, and wish it much success. I look forward to receiving updates of your work.