Tackling our dangerous train stations

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At around 19:05 hrs on Wednesday 26 February 2020, a passenger train struck and fatally injured a person who had just fallen from platform 1 of Eden Park station.

The person, who had impaired vision, moved near to, and fell from, the platform edge probably because his visual impairment meant he was unaware that he was close to this edge. The platform edge was not fitted with markings intended to assist visually impaired people.

The above words are not my own, or some emotive media report of a horrific fatality, but the words from the investigation report carried out by the Rail Accident Investigation Branch.

The death of Cleveland Gervais would almost certainly have been avoided, if the platform at this train station in south London had (at this time) the basic safety measure of tactile paving.

Since February of last year I have been investigating the wider issue of rail safety throughout the whole rail network.   A Freedom of Information request that was made to Network Rail revealed that across the whole railway network more than a third (35%) of train platforms by length did not have tactile paving in 2020. A further concern was that at some stations there is tactile paving at some platforms, but not all of them, creating a totally confusing situation for people who rely on tactile paving.

Working with RNIB and Guide Dogs I have also discovered that for too long tactile paving was considered by the railway industry to be an “access” measure, which was considered only necessary to install when a station was facing wider upgrades, and not a vital safety measure of its own, which must be urgently provided at every train platform.

That attitude has, thank goodness, been finally dropped, but even now the current Network Rail plan for ensuring that tactile paving is installed on 100% of platforms has a deadline of 2029. Yes that is correct – at present blind and visually impaired people are being told they will have to wait eight years before every train station is safe and independent travel is far less frightening.

The situation facing Cleveland is not unique. RNIB are aware of two other fatalities from blind and partially sighted people falling from platforms. Between nine and 15% of people falling onto railway tracks are blind or partially sighted, Rail Accident Investigation Branch statistics show.

Travelling by train should be safe and not a worrying experience.   Tactile paving is a low-cost measure which helps to save lives.  It also prevents unnecessary injuries and harrowing incidents for blind and partially sighted people.

For many months I have being using Twitter to urge people to sign the RNIB petition calling for rapid action to install tactile paving at all platforms. The petition is being presented tomorrow by Cleveland’s partner to the Department for Transport and Network Rail. Even now it is not too late to sign the petition.

You can also support the campaign for safer stations in other ways. Sarah Olney MP has been brilliant in continually raising the issue in Parliament. MPs should be asked to sign Early Day Motion 317, which is a cross party EDM that has been tabled.  If your MP is prevented from signing EDMs ask them to write to the Rail Minister and to Network Rail urging that far more rapid action is taken.

To find out more about this issue please take a look at this Youtube video featuring the partner of Cleveland Gervais.  Once you have watched it I hope you will agree with me that this scandal of dangerous stations needs to end as quickly as possible.

* Caroline Pidgeon is the Liberal Democrat London Assembly Member and chair of the London Assembly Transport Committee

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10 Comments

  • Matt Wardman 20th Jul '21 - 8:11pm

    2029 rapid 🙂 .

    At my local mainline-to-London station, the barrow crossing was taken away around 1990.

    So since then, until now, despite oodles of campaigning, people with wheelchairs or unable to carry their cases over the bridge are instructed to get a train to Nottingham or Chesterfield half an hour away, use the lift there, and come back on the train the other way.

    Just to cross from Platform A to Platform B.

  • Obviously an awful set of circumstances that you wouldn’t wish on anyone, and in an ideal world, you would want to have every safety measure you can.

    But…

    How many deaths per year would be avoided by fitting tactile paving to every platform? (my guess: almost none – this is a highly unusual event)

    How much would it cost to retro-fit tactile paving to every station platform in the UK? (My guess – £many billions – changing railway infrastructure does not come cheap).

    How many more lives could be saved each year if that same money were spent on something like road safety or cycle paths or healthy eating or more staff in hospital A&E etc.?

    In the light of that, an aim to retro-fit tactile paving by 2029 sounds pretty fair to me. It’s good to campaign on safety and to ask questions, but at some point you have to be realistic that perfect safety immediately is an impossible goal, and that travelling by train is already *massively* safer than travelling by road in terms of deaths per mile.

  • This seems like a fairly basic requirement and it’s disgraceful that Network Rail are dragging their heels on this. The fact that the lack of tactile paving is a danger that specifically disadvantages those with sight impairments makes this delay extra cruel.

    Matt makes a fair point about how the rail system consistently disadvantages those with disabilities, with what appears to be a shrug and an assumption that most people won’t care. It seems to be part of a larger problem within the rail network where anyone with disabilities are expected to be grateful for whatever crumbs they get. I’ve read too many horror stories experienced by wheelchair users to be able to put those supposedly isolated incidents down to rare back luck. There’s a systemic disregard for the rights of everyone with disabilities to have proper access to our public transport system.

  • in replying to Simon R the estimated cost of installing tactile paving at the remaining one third of platforms that lack this very basic safety measure is probably in the region of £50 million – possibly less. A reasonable sum, but far short of billions. It is a measure that will save lives, reduce serious near falls which don’t result in death but create injuries and much distress. It would also bring immense comfort to people travelling across the railway network. There is no trade off between road and rail safety. Tactile paving is a relatively low cost measure and is indeed uniform in its provision at dropped kerbs at pedestrian crossings for example.

  • Peter Martin 21st Jul '21 - 11:45am

    Maybe there should be more emphasis given to providing blind people with small hand held radar devices which would also allow the detection of other hazards such as kerb edges on pavements. It would be quite easy for a visually impaired person to stumble and fall into the traffic if they weren’t aware of the step.

    It’s all technically possible. Just need the political will to fund the roll out.

    https://eandt.theiet.org/content/articles/2019/04/portable-radar-device-could-help-visually-impaired-people-see-their-environment/

  • Anyone reading ths article might find this article hellpful: https://e-activist.com/page/82201/action/1

  • @Mark Ah OK fair enough. That sounds to me a surprisingly low figure given the typical cost of rail infrastructure projects, but if it is only £50M then that does change the calculations and may make retrofitting tactile paving more worth doing. I don’t think it changes the point that you do need to weigh the cost up against all the other possible safety measures you could spend the money on – bearing in mind that the link you provided only cites one single death in recent years that could have been avoided, but a lower cost could justify a higher priority.

  • Mark Morris 21st Jul '21 - 4:04pm

    Simon, to see the wider benefits of tactile paving see paragraphs 45 to 48 of this report: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/report-012021-person-struck-by-a-train-at-eden-park-station Its benefits go much further than just saving lives.

  • Jason Conner 21st Jul '21 - 6:30pm

    Yes of course I’ll sign the petition Caroline. Cleveland featured in the video who sadly passed is visiting Greenwich Park which happens to be my area. People with disabilities are discriminated against in so many way so it would hardly be that difficult to install tactile paving on station platform which would benefit ‘everyone’. Thank you for all the good work you do at the GLA.

  • Helen Dudden 21st Jul '21 - 8:30pm

    The underground is a very dangerous place to be if disabled. I’ve used the service lifts when available.
    I always feel, no one really has the time for disability in some areas.

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