Rail Industry Focus



Source: RTM Apr/May 15

A year ago, London Overground became the first operator to offer a full ‘turn-up-and-go’ service for disabled passengers. RTM spoke to LOROL stakeholder and engagement manager Sam Russell.

London Overground is a high-density metro railway whose rise and rise has been widely considered a big success story for the rail industry. 

But with few pre-booked customers, it noticed a rise in the number of passengers requiring assistance at the station as the years went on, primarily to board and alight the train. 

Traditionally, the advice has been to pre-book to be sure of appropriate assistance, but the operator wanted to move to a ‘turn-up-and-go’ model in line with other Transport for London (TfL) modes. 

Sam Russell is stakeholder and community manager at LOROL, the MTR-Arriva joint venture that operates London Overground under a concession agreement from TfL. 

He told us: “Obviously customers are keen to use London Overground as a metro railway. Disabled customers want to do that in the same way as everyone else. We know that is true anecdotally, but also more formally from the sorts of meetings I attend as the stakeholder manager, with local authorities in London, local mobility forums, and other specific groups we go to speak to from time to time. 

“The key for turn-up-and-go was getting our staff to a place where they are enhancing the customer experience. All of our frontline staff, for years, have known how to deploy a manual boarding ramp, for example, to help a wheelchair customer get onto a train. It’s a very mechanical process, but quite straightforward. The challenge we faced with turn-up-and-go was to re-train all of our frontline staff – anybody who might have an interaction with a customer requiring assistance – around the more emotional and customer service side of the task they’re being asked to do.” 

Eliminating barriers 

The operator subscribes to what is known as the social model of disability, where instead of seeing a passenger with a disability as a problem to deal with, it instead looks at the barriers it puts up as a company that stops it effectively supporting people with disabilities, and works to remove those barriers.

As part of the training programme, it brought in a drama-based company called Dramanon and actors with disabilities to get the message across in an interactive way. 

“They’d done training with us in the past, which was very well-regarded by the staff,” Russell said. The content of the training programme was also based on feedback from disabled people, some of whom had attended pilot sessions to ensure the training touched on the right sorts of areas. 

“It got the staff engaged – they were not sitting in front of a Powerpoint presentation all day being told these things, but living the experience, which they then take out onto the front line. We then spent six to nine months rolling that out to our frontline staff. That has made a difference to the quality of the journeys that we are assisting people with.” 

Feedback has been “broadly positive”, he said. “If you’re in and around London, increasingly the evidence is that people know about what we do, appreciate it and the feedback we get is that they are being given a good experience by our staff when they undertake those journeys.” 

Minimising the operational delay 

The training given to LOROL staff has also had operational benefits, by minimising dwell time at stations while assistance is given. 

He said: “Staff need to be aware of the operational need for us to run a good, timely railway – especially with some of the frequencies of our trains. If you delay one, you start having a knock-on effect. Our staff know to minimise the operational delay. That means being efficient, being ready with ramp when the train arrives. We have specific doors on our trains that customers in wheelchairs in particular can board through, which then have the wheelchair accessible section directly behind them. Everything is standardised, as far as we can.” 

Spreading turn-up-and-go nationwide 

Russell said LOROL is “the only TOC in the UK that offers” turn-up-and-go, a message reinforced by disability campaign group Transport for All, which praises its efforts. 

Campaigns coordinator Lianna Etkind said that as passengers now have the right to assistance (such as a wheelchair ramp or guidance for visually impaired people) without pre-booking on London Underground and London Overground, the rest of the national network should follow suit. She said: “Requesting disabled passengers to give 24 hours’ notice to use the trains is discriminatory, outdated and must go. Turn-up-and-go assistance is a long overdue measure that will allow us to travel with the same freedom and independence as everyone else. Rail companies need to get a move on and make this happen.” 

ATOC, which represents the operators, has done a feasibility study on a wider roll-out, and is soon to start a more extensive 12-month trial. 

David Sindall, head of disability and inclusion for ATOC, said: “Record numbers of disabled people are now travelling by train and with around 99% simply turning up at the station without pre-booking, they are increasingly confident that they will get the support they need. 

“The industry is determined to improve and continue to see more people with disabilities travelling by train. That’s why we’re about to launch a bigger turn-up-and-go trial for London to help provide the increasing numbers of disabled rail passengers with an improved travel experience.” 

Russell said it is important to do this, because “if a journey goes wrong, lots of people won’t try again”.

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