Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham has urged Network Rail to make all Greater Manchester stations fully accessible by 2025 if he is to be elected for a second term as Mayor.
The Labour mayoral candidate says he would press Network Rail to hand over control of stations that fall short of standards set out in the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).
He told a press conference on Wednesday: “If we had a situation where under the Equality Act other people with protected characteristics were told they couldn’t access one of our stations, it would rightly be a matter of public outrage.
“But this needs to be a matter of public outrage, we are not prepared to put up with things as they are. “I want to be a clear voice for disabled people in Greater Manchester who have for way too long had to put up with a completely unacceptable state of affairs.”
Currently 40 per cent of Greater Manchester’s stations - 38 out of 93 - have ‘step free access’, making them DDA compliant.
However, this is lower than South Yorkshire (93 per cent), the North West region as a whole (63 per cent) and the national average (61 per cent).
A spokesperson for Network Rail said: “We’re fully committed to working with the wider rail industry and Transport for Greater Manchester to make the railway in the North West as accessible for passengers as possible.
“Network Rail is funded to operate, renew and maintain the railway. Accessibility enhancements come from a separate DfT fund.
“Every five years, the DfT invites local authority transport bodies to nominate stations for this Access for All funding.
“Network Rail then works with all stakeholders to deliver chosen schemes as we continue to improve the railway for all passengers.”
However, there are arguments made that this push by the incumbent has a strong devolutionary and divisive rhetoric, this is something that on the other hand has not been denied.
The incumbent mayor said attempts had been made to encourage the government into devolving more stations in Greater Manchester to local decision makers and as a result would give the city-region a better chance of securing upgrades which could lead to new development around non-compliant stations.
A survey commissioned in 2020 by health charity Leonard Cheshire also suggested that providing step-free access could increase passenger numbers at a station by 20 per cent.
“At the moment these stations are just sitting there like liabilities, that’s what Network rail seems to view them as,” said Mr Burnham.
The department for Transport however has stated “It’s vital that there is equal access for disabled people across our transport network, which is why we have committed a further £350m to improve disabled access across Britain.
“We also encourage local authorities to invest in station accessibility, as many already do.”
It remains to be seen however whether the governments investments are in transition to be implemented or whether there is indeed a strong political case for stations to be taken over locally for the benefit of wider accessibility in Greater Manchester.
The 2021 Greater Manchester mayoral election will be held on 6 May 2021.