As you’ll know by now, a lot of these blogs involve my experience travelling places using different transport methods, so this one details my first completely solo train ride (I’d travelled with people on the train before, but this was my first go at it COMPLETELY solo) which was something I was a little wary about as I wondered about all the “what ifs” that could arise given I was travelling alone, but I did it anyway because I am #invinciblewomanonwheels. I’ll split it into ticket buying, getting on the train and then actually being on the train.
In terms of buying tickets I can just buy tickets on the internet like everyone else, with a disabled persons railcard (which I’d recommend getting if you’re eligible and use the train regularly as it allows you a third off and a third off for one friend or family member travelling with you and it costs just £20 a year). I then ring the train company that I’m travelling (more than likely Great Western Railway) 24 hours before travel with what time I’ll be getting a train and where I’ll be travelling to and from so they have ample time to sort all the accommodations, this whole calling process is slightly different if you get someone to call ahead to organise the accommodations for you instead of doing it yourself (but I’ll explain more on that later).
In terms of getting to the station and on the train, getting to the station was a journey in itself. I took my first and possibly only Uber because the train stations between my friend Aoife’s house (where I’d stayed the night before) and London Paddington (where I was getting the train from) weren’t accessible. I found Uber to be fairly standard accessibility with no accommodations needed since it’s just an average car and I was travelling in my manual wheelchair, so we just put the chair in the boot of the car and sat me in the back seat. Having arrived at Paddington and devoured the classic pre-train coffee and croissant combo for breakfast with Aoife, I made myself known to the station access/assistance staff in their little room within the station. They have a list of everyone who has requested accessibility accommodations for train journeys that day and what train, when and who will be travelling, this is where getting someone to call ahead on your behalf comes in because, given that my mum called ahead for me (because I was still in Sicily 24 hours before I had to take the train and no way was I paying for an international call), my name was noted on the accessibility accommodations list at the train station as A. N. Other because someone else called the train company instead of it being me, and that freaked me out slightly because when I gave my name they couldn’t find me on the list, so I thought I wouldn’t be able to get on the train!
Station staff then pushed me to the train and up the ramp onto the train and the wheelchair was backed up into the designated wheelchair area on the train, Aoife was allowed on to train to help me transfer from my wheelchair to a disability priority seat (the wheelchair isn’t anchored in any way and my manual wobbles around a lot even when the brakes are on, so I prefer to transfer to a seat to feel more stable).
The actual train journey was pretty average except for transferring between trains (I was traveling from Paddington to Bath Spa then Bath Spa to Chippenham). I had to ask fellow train travellers for help transferring (moving the wheelchair closer to me and physically steadying it so I could safely transfer) and getting off the train because I could see no staff on the train, I don’t know if they tend to wait for a while before they actually get ON the train and help me or if I’m expected to self-propel? It feels weird asking strangers for help but even the #invinciblewomanonwheels needs assistance.
I hope this blog is helpful in showing how easy it is to conquer the rails on wheels!