Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) is introducing sets of innovative rail travel access aids to support passengers who need help with communication, such as those who are hard of hearing or have language or learning difficulties.
The Travel Support Card is for passengers to carry and show to rail staff when they travel. The card has a “How you can help me” space to be filled in by the passenger – or by a carer or station staff – to explain the support they need, and further spaces for journey details and emergency contacts.
People who take regular journeys can keep the card to use every trip, or a new card for each journey can be picked up from any staffed station.
The Accessibility Communication Guide, the second aid, is a pictorial guide that makes it easier for GTR customer service staff and passengers with communications support needs to understand each other. Customers can simply point to photographs or pictograms to explain what help they need: getting onto their train, catching a bus or taxi outside the station, finding a toilet or a public phone.
Antony Merlyn, GTR’s Accessibility Manager who led the introduction of the new aids, said: “Giving all passengers the confidence to access our network is a key focus for us at GTR. We know that many passengers with hidden disabilities can find the railway to be intimidating. The Communication Guide and Travel Support Card, alongside other established support such as Priority Seat Cards, are all designed to make it easier for passengers to communicate with our front line teams, and to enable our staff to tailor assistance to their specific need. We’re very grateful for the invaluable advice and feedback from our Access Advisory Panels that ensure the support we offer is what our passengers really want.”
To advise GTR on policy and support for disabled passengers, GTR runs Access Advisory Panels of disabled representatives from across its network. Along with groups representing learning difficulties specifically, members of the panel contributed expert guidance on the designs of the new aids and have welcomed the innovations wholeheartedly.
Gill Henley, on Great Northern’s panel, represents people with “hidden disabilities” such as hearing and speech difficulties. Gill said: “I think these two tools will bring reassurance to those who may not have the confidence to ask for help. Unlike a badge these are more discreet and therefore will enable someone who needs help to approach a member of staff in the same way as you or I. For anyone with speech and language issues these will give them a voice. For those who lack confidence,perhaps because of mental health conditions, these will enable them to travel with confidence knowing they will be listened to and assisted.”
Yusuf Osman, on the Thameslink advisory panel, said: “This is an innovative approach to providing assistance. Simply fill in the help you need, show it to a member of staff and help will be provided.”
Fiona Bower, on Southern’s advisory panel, uses a wheelchair and an assistance dog. Fiona said: “You might think that I wouldn’t need these aids personally, but there have been many times when I was so tired on the way home that I needed such supportive material to ensure I got home safely. They give people confidence and peace of mind, and reduce anxiety when words don’t come out well.”
Mark Jukes, also from the Southern panel, said: “I think GTR have done a brilliant job with these aids. I spent time showing them to my sister-in-law who was a Special Needs Teacher and worked with teenagers who had quite challenging mental and other health issues. She was really impressed with the Communication Guide, the clarity of the images, icons and messages. It’s a really cool initiative that I’m sure will help, reassure, and take any stress out of communicating for a wide range of people.”
GTR already issues Priority Seating cards and ‘Baby on Board’ badges to help the passengers most in need to secure a seat. These are available from each GTR web site at:
Great Northern: Travel Information > Travel help > Priority Seat Card
Govia Thameslink Railway
Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) operates Thameslink, Great Northern, Southern and Gatwick Express services as follows:
- Thameslink – services between Bedford and Brighton, Luton/St Albans and Sutton, Wimbledon and Sevenoaks
- Great Northern – services between London and Welwyn, Hertford, Peterborough, Cambridge and King’s Lynn
- Southern – services between London and the Sussex coast (Brighton, Worthing, Eastbourne, Bognor Regis, Hastings) and parts of Surrey, Kent and Hampshire (Ashford International, Southampton, Portsmouth)
- Gatwick Express – fast, non-stop direct services between Gatwick Airport and London Victoria
GTR is the largest rail franchise in the UK in terms of passenger numbers, trains, revenue and staff. The operator carries about 326 million passenger journeys per year, and employs around 6,500 people. Its aim is to improve services across all four networks.
Southern has the fastest passenger growth in the UK with numbers into London having doubled in 12 years - compared with the industry as a whole doubling over the past 20 years. To meet this growth and to future-proof the network, GTR is modernising the rail service for passengers.
GTR has introduced more new trains in the past year than all other franchises put together, with 500 new carriages so far.
The transformative £7bn Thameslink Programme will bring hundreds more daily services from 2018, increasing the number of trains though the central London core from up to 15 to 24 trains per hour. Network Rail has also launched a £300m programme to improve resilience across the GTR network.
GTR is modernising how it works, with new technology in use at our stations and on our trains, smartcard ticketing and a new, flexible on-board role on many Southern services. This ensures fewer cancellations, and with more staff on board our trains now than ever before, passengers are enjoying a much better level of on-board customer service.
The GTR investment programme for stations includes funding for more CCTV, toilet refurbishments, new retail facilities, help points and car park improvements – as well as plans for increased motorcycle storage and improved transport integration.