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Blindness charities call for action to save lives at train stations

Blindness charities across the UK are calling for the government to revise the final deadline of 2029 for the implementation of tactile surfaces on all rail platforms across Great Britain.

National blindness charities are calling for the government to improve safety measures at UK rail stations as it was revealed crucial “tactile surfaces” may not be rolled out until 2029.

While the government pledge on tactile surfaces, released as part of the National Disability Strategy on July 28, included mentions of “fast-tracked improvements” and an “accelerated upgrade of rail station platforms with tactile paving,” no commitment or renewed timescale has been set out.

Eleanor Thompson, head of policy and public affairs at the Royal National Institute of Blind People said:

“Despite being a fundamental safety measure, around half of mainline railway stations in Britain lack tactile. This is completely unacceptable. While we are pleased to see promises in the National Disability Strategy to accelerate the roll out of tactile, we still don’t know when this will be completed. It is critical the Department for Transport secures further funding from the Treasury so Network Rail can accelerate the pace of the work and make all stations across Britain safe and accessible for blind and partially sighted rail passengers.”

A Department for Transport spokesperson told The Big Issue they anticipated the work installing tactile surfaces at most stations to be complete before 2029.

“As a visually impaired person and a guide dog owner, I need to feel safe at any train station. If I go to a station that has no tactile markings, I simply do not feel safe, as I don’t know if I am getting too near to the platform edge.Sarah Leadbetter, national campaigns officer at NFBUK

Sarah Leadbetter, national campaigns officer at NFBUK

RNIB delivered a petition for tactile surfaces to the Department for Transport on July 21, before the publication of the National Disability Strategy. They are now planning on launching a campaign encouraging people to get in touch with their MP regarding faster implementation.

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RNIB received a letter last week from the Department for Transport which said: “We have made an initial £10m available this financial year to deliver tactiles for up to 200 priority platforms across Network Rail routes.” The proposal had been announced previously, but has just been approved by the Treasury.

The charity believes that this still leaves over 800 stations across Great Britain without the safety measure, however. The platforms which have been initially prioritised are those partially fitted with tactile edges.

Blindness charity Guide Dogs told The Big Issue that while they understood the practicalities of such a large programme, and the fact there may be finances to organise, they would like a commitment for the project to be finished within the next three to four years.

The importance of tactile surfaces at rail stations was highlighted in a report released in February this year concerning the death of a partially sighted passenger, Cleveland Gervais, at Eden Park Station, south-east London. The report, conducted by the Rail Accident Investigation Branch, revealed that the lack of tactile surfaces at the station may have contributed to the accident, and further that between 9 and 15 per cent of people falling from rail platforms are visually impaired.

Sarah Leadbetter, national campaigns officer at NFBUK explained:

“As a visually impaired person and a guide dog owner, I need to feel safe at any train station. If I go to a station that has no tactile markings, I simply do not feel safe, as I don’t know if I am getting too near to the platform edge.

“The date of 2029 is terrible. Tactile markings should implemented as soon as possible, as you are literally putting the safety of blind and visually impaired people at risk.”

In response to calls for an accelerated programme, a Department of Transport spokesperson said: “Our National Disability Strategy aims to install tactile paving on every platform in Great Britain, and this work is being completed at pace, alongside a full accessibility audit of all UK train stations.”

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