We need to break down barriers to make disabled and wheelchair accessible train travel possible for all. We’ve always been about helping people use rail more. Yet sadly we are far from a world where people who have mobility, sight, hearing or cognitive issues are fully supported in their travel adventures.
Although we alone can’t change train companies’ practices and policies overnight, we can provide information so that travel for people with disabilities or reduced mobility is a little easier to get their head around from time of booking. Thus giving the traveller the power to choose accessible trains. It’s a start, but there is a long way to go.
So, here are some tips on what train companies in the UK, Spain, Italy as well as Eurostar are doing to make rail travel inclusive for all. Which ones offer disabled railcards, how to find wheelchair accessible train stations, if personal assistance is available at the start and end of your journey, if there are Braille buttons on train doors and if there are quiet compartments to assist people with cognitive disabilities. Please note: we can’t book wheelchair space on trains at the moment on our website, you have to book via the train providers. But we can give you a lot of the information you need in one place to make your rail travel a little easier.
Accessible train travel in UK
With so many different rail companies in the UK, each one has a different assistance policy. Most trains can accommodate wheelchairs that are 70cm wide and 120cm long. There's a small number of older trains that can only carry wheelchairs with a maximum width of 67cm. National Rail Enquiries have more information about how to book wheelchair spaces on the UK rail network, including exact dimensions catered for by each rail provider.
Holders of a Disabled Persons Railcard get 1/3 off adult rail fares for travel on the National Rail network in Great Britain. If you're travelling with another adult they will also get 1/3 off their rail fare. Another invaluable feature of the Disabled Persons Railcard is that they have an online facility to book assistance with UK rail operators, rather than having to work out which operator does what. In general, however, there will be someone to meet and accompany you on and off the train, or to your point of transfer, and they will assist with luggage too. You can also call Network Rail for assistance on local free number +44 8000223720 or +44 8456050600 for a textphone/minicom.
The range of different policies and practices from various operators can be frustrating for travellers with access issues. One travel app aiming to help is Transreport, which is currently being tried and tested. With this app, you can update station staff in the event of a delay or problem so that if you have booked assistance the staff know that you are still en route. At the time of writing, this app is being tested on West Midlands Railway, London Northwestern Railway, Greater Anglia, and South Western Railway. A full roll-out across England, Wales and Scotland is planned for autumn 2019.
Another proactive company is Scotrail, which has started to adopt a new form of signage at their accessible toilets. These show a person with a red heart, to highlight the fact that many people's disabilities are invisible - the sign was designed by a young girl frustrated by the fact that people don't always recognise different needs, just because they aren't in a wheelchair.
For more specific information on travelling on UK and European trains with a wheelchair, see our help article.
Accessible travel on Eurostar
With its Eurostar Assist service, each Eurostar train has space for those travelling with their own wheelchairs, which is in First Class but at a second class rail fare. The same goes for the person you are travelling with. At present we do not have the facility to book this for you, so you need to contact Eurostar directly or call them on +44 3432186186. All spaces are next to wheelchair-accessible toilets with push-button access.
If your travel access needs are not wheelchair related, you can of course book Eurostar tickets through us and then get in touch with Eurostar Assist to reserve additional support when you get to the station. Eurostar Assist services are at its main stations of St Pancras International, Ebbsfleet International, Ashford International, Paris Gare du Nord, Brussels-Midi/Zuid and Lille Europe. Here you will get help with your luggage (max 15kg), be guided through security and passport control, taken to a priority seating area and then to your coach. Other stations en route vary with regards to assistance provided. For example, in the Netherlands, you will be met but they won’t help you with bags. If you are travelling onwards within the UK you need to organise further assistance via National Rail.
The Eurostar Assist website also provides a wealth of information such as where to find accessible parking bays at Eurostar stations or assistance offered to people with autism. If you are travelling with an assistance dog, call +44 3432186186 for advice on documents needed. Call this number to organise special rates for your travel companion too. For details on accessible rail travel while in France, as well as Germany and the Netherlands see this blog.
Accessible train travel in Spain
Spanish rail company, Renfe, offers a service called ‘Atendo’ to assist people with special needs. It is available on all their services, high speed or more conventional medium distance trains. Call them on +34 912140505 in advance to discuss your needs and then go to the Atendo meeting point at your station 30 minutes before departure. You can see a map of accessible stations here. They can reserve a H-seat, for those who are travelling in their own wheelchair, assist travellers with an auditory or visual disability as well as any person with reduced mobility. Note that rail companies in Europe cater for wheelchairs of maximum dimensions: 70cm wide,120cm deep and height of 109cm.
If you travel regularly to Spain, and have a severe disability, you can apply for a Tarjeta Dorada disability railcard to obtain excellent discounts. However, you can only get this while in the country, and by producing the relevant documentation at a station. But if you do get it, you can use it on our website when booking your ticket to obtain the discount.
Catalonia deserves being highlighted as European leaders in accessibility. They have a bespoke Tourism for all website, so that if you take the train to Barcelona, for example, you can discover just how well the region caters for your needs.
Accessible train travel in Italy
in Italy by train it gets a little more complicated as there are two main operators, as well as some other international ones passing through. All with their own accessibility policies. Italo has dedicated wheelchair spaces on each of its trains, but you need to call +39 060708 to buy and reserve them. If you want any sort of assistance make sure you call this number at least 30 minutes in advance. Lines are open 08.00 to 22.00 and you will get guaranteed assistance in the following stations: Florence’s Firenze Santa Maria Novella, Bologna Centrale, Napoli Centrale and Venezia Santa Lucia. For all other stations assistance must be requested no less than 12 hours prior to travel.
When travelling with Trenitalia, an assistance service is provided by RFI - Rete Ferroviaria Italiana (RFI). Trenitalia includes pregnant women in their list of people with special needs whom they will help. Brava Trenitalia. Their points of assistance are called Sale Blu (Blue Rooms) and from these points you can get 24/7 assistance. To contact these accessibility experts in advance, call +39 2323232 or email [email protected] .
There are 14 Sale Blu points in main stations in Italy, which also connect you with 278 stations in total. From stations including Roma or Verona, Milan or Messina, you will find these Sale Blu points, offering assistance 24 hours a day. Look out for the Sale Blu sign. If you need mobility assistance, you can always book your rail ticket to Italy with us and then send the reservation details to one of the Sale Blu points, so that they can book the help you need. But if you need to book a seat specifically for wheelchairs, you need to go through Trenitalia. Note that you also need to request assistance 24 hours in advance for train journeys within Italy, 48 hours for international travel.
You may also want to read our blog on accessible train travel in France, Germany and the Netherlands.
Photo credits: ©RailEuropeUK.
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