Opinion with Christine Tongue: Taking the train and testing disability access

Christine's train journey adventure

At the launch of Thanet Parkway Station I had the pleasure of meeting Mark Borney, general manager of South Eastern.  And he had the pleasure of hearing me moaning on about not feeling confident about taking trains any more as a wheel user.

He said he knows they’re not perfect but please give a try to the disabled help they offer.

So I did!

We have family in North London I haven’t seen in three years of covid then post operative disability.  We’d missed a much loved aunt’s 93rd birthday so going to see her was our priority.

We worked out that I could scoot and Norman could walk from St Pancras to Islington, with no recourse to buses (which I’m still scared of) in less than an hour as long as it was a fine day. Scooters don’t like rain.

“Get to the platform 20 minutes early and we’ll meet you there”, says a nice booking lady on the phone.

11.30, half an hour before the train was due, I’m at Broadstairs station. No help in sight, and toilets, including disabled, locked. I think about giving up and going home. But along comes our train, a jolly man jumps off bearing ramp and I scoot onto the train and put myself in the wheelchair spot, just down from the “accessible” toilet

Three bikes in the other wheelchair space opposite so no room to manoeuvre. When two of the bikes get off four pushchairs with little babies arrive! They are also supposed to use the space near the accessible loo – when I went I had to clutch Norman and two prams to get there on sticks. It felt really hazardous.

In London, no ramp! A fellow passenger said she’d alert the staff. A ramp arrived after the train was empty. Makes sense but highlights to me the perils of wheelies travelling alone.  (I may have found myself on the way back without Norman and the fellow passenger.)

Next hold up, the lift to street level.  It’s the only way down from the platform apart from an escalator which of course I can’t use.

Three prams, a bike and a huge suitcase. I try to get in with the bike. Impatient lift slams its doors onto my knee. I burst into tears with shock and swear embarrassingly horribly. Bike man looks miserable but gets me in and out again.

Once out- phew! we make our way to Islington. The traffic is nice and slow in London now and the pavements in Camden smoother than Thanet.

A delightful evening and morning coffee with old friends and we’re off again. Thanks to the September sunny spell, scooting back to St Pancras downhill is easy.

But the lift puts me in a tizz again. Not functioning. Big queue, more bikes, no staff as they’re all upstairs. In panic I ring the disabled helpline. “Ask a member of staff”. I despair, but she goes off to make enquiries. Then the lift decides to make an appearance holding five puzzled people who’d been taken to the lower floor and stranded there. Relief!

On the platform lots of helpful people get ramps and guide me onto the same spot by the accessible loo.


Then a million people also get on – 2.37pm on a Friday, has rush hour changed its nature? Good thing I went for a wee in St P! Although did have to wait ten minutes while a young lad apparently had a shower. The disabled loo was DRENCHED! Not good for sticks as they slip easily on tiles.

Before Broadstairs a lovely girl turns up with a ramp. “Does the driver know you’re on?”

“Am I supposed to tell him?”

“Don’t worry, I’ll rush up and tell him when we get there.”

I’m so near home I’m thinking if I finish up in Ramsgate, we’ll get a taxi. (The scooter dismantles into boot).

But all was well.  Home safe and almost sound – bruised knee and poor Norman now has covid, developed three days after that crowded train journey.

My conclusion? Lovely helpers, but so much can go wrong. Why, first all, are trains so inaccessible? Why can’t platforms be level with train entrances? Why can’t new stations be designed with long ramps as the main platform access, rather than lifts and escalators?

And why bung all the bikes, prams and wheelchairs in the same spot?

I’m afraid some of my disabled friends have called me brave for even trying it all out, and now with covid on the rise again, vulnerable people may not want to take even more risks.

But the main point is that the train companies are trying to get rid of staff, but what’s needed is MORE people helping everyone, not just the scared wheelies. And don’t we need more people to use the trains and buses and cut carbon use?

Christine is a founder member of disability campaign group Access Thanet


  1. Christine, what’s your thoughts on the campaign to make users of disability scooters take compulsory proficiency tests? Good or bad idea?

  2. I’m sure next time they will have someone standing there for the whole time you’re on the platform, plus put on an extra carriage just for you… or they could just adapt your wheels and tow you!!

    One Day, just one day it won’t be about you!

  3. Usual toxic replies from people who probably don’t have a disability that limits movement and have no idea how difficult public transport access is for some. What a nasty bunch you all are,shame on you.

  4. I would say that the result of this “testing disability access” is a resounding pass.
    You got where you wanted to go & you got home.
    It’s good to hear that it can be done. Despite all of the previous concerns.

  5. The point is so well made. Everyone should be able to travel without fear and anxiety. Of course lots of things are done well by good staff on stations and trains. The lift at St Pancras is essential and usually works well. It must have been horrible when Christine’s leg was hurt.
    The infrastructure and staff organisation is fundamentally not geared to people with additional needs and needs improvement. Particularly available staff assistance when it has been book in advance!
    However of course we can celebrate the fact that the journey was possible.

  6. I am appalled by some of these comments and the callous agenda pursued by some. It is worth remembering that through accident, disease or medical incident (heart attack etc) we all can become disabled in some way. Therefore Christine speaks for all of us potentially.

  7. So the disability assistance was there, just not quick enough for you. ‘I want it now’ generation. Moan, Moan, Moan.

  8. This woman wakes up each day to look for things she cannot easily do so she can moan about them. Disability is a drag but she needs to accept she cannot do what able bodied people can do. Get over it. Live your retirement in peace woman! We cannot keep changing things to keep the minority happy. She always manages to go to a protest when there is one.

  9. Was Christine not asked to try. She tried and gave her personal view and experience. According to some she should ask for their input first and get their agreement on her thoughts. My goodness she is disabled and not brain dead. Free speech and thought are still permitted I believe in the UK we haven’t become a totally dictatorship yet.

  10. It seems that the journey was a success.
    Christine found the disabled toilets at Broadstairs were locked. Quite often, so are the ordinary toilets.She had assistance onto the train. But Heavens! There were other people on the train. At least she got a seat. I’m a senior citizen and all too often have had to stand for at least some of the journey.
    The lift at St Pancras was full with people with bikes and pushchairs. Well, wait a couple of minutes for it to come back empty.
    I think people would be more sympathetic if Chr8stine didn’t appear to set out to emphasize her condition, and find fault with the rest of society.

  11. Christine, my Mum got multiple sclerosis in the late ’60s when I was 11. Her disability was a therefore a big part of my life for a long time. I think some things were easier back then mainly because various systems – benefits, social services etc. – worked more smoothly than they do now and weren’t subject to constant change. Inclusion, provision & adaptations for disabled people may be more widespread now, perhaps more imaginative & generous too, but they do seem to be as chaotic as … well, everything else is these days!
    Disabled people can find out what’s available to help them live as normally as possible, but somebody has to do the test runs and shout about the failings, the problems etc. Thank you for doing that. I don’t think you’re going to deter wheelchair / scooter users from using public transport but forewarned is forearmed! And in fact there’s a lot here that able-bodied travellers will recognise as typical recurrent problems that need to be highlighted for all to see.
    Incidentally, for those who think that disabled people should shut-up and smile – you have no idea whatsoever of just how much suffering disability can cause on a daily basis. Christine does not moan, truly she doesn’t.

  12. The point is the the problems encountered daily by people with disabilities are generally because of lack of care in our society. There IS unequal access to our transport system.
    We’re all fed up if toilets are needed and locked. Many of us affected if lifts are broken ….. but most of us can GET ON AND OFF the train without relying on help. The stress experienced whilst wondering if help will be there is not shared by everyone. The day is destroyed if the assistance is not there.

  13. Some of the criticism centred around Christine “moaning”. Quite clearly those who think that way are not bothered about how disabled access could be improved, and consequently, probably are not bothered about improving fairness and equality in general, for disabled and non disabled people. Put up or shut up seems to be the mindset. I feel sorry for those of you who attacked Christine in that respect, it means you have very low standards, and are probably not all that caring either (based on your reactions) Sad.

  14. Great work and ignore the moaners you have here. One day they will have a broken ankle or poor balance and suddenly the world will go from “Entitled” to “gimme gimme”.

    Of course disabled access is going to pot in all walks of life: when cutbacks are forced over and over again, it is the disadvantaged that suffer.

    Now go crawl onto the human scrap pile and be quiet… sky man is trying to enjoy his 5th special brew and your disabled tales are making his feet itch (and he hasn’t been able to reach them for 15 years, no disability there other than a taste for ale that won’t go away)

Comments are closed.