This is a blog I should have gotten around to writing months ago, but anyway, here it is! My experience of travelling from London Euston to Birmingham University via Birmingham New Street with London North Western Railway and West Midlands Railways for Cage Warriors 98 in October.
Ticket Buying & Getting On at London Euston
The tickets for this section from Euston to New Street was booked through the Virgin site on a weekend event deal of theirs and then collected from a station ticket machine. It was a fairly simple process in which I just selected the stations were travelling to/from, selected a specific train and paid and then collected the tickets at Euston station. While that was all done on one site, there was no option to reserve a wheelchair space on the site. Assistance was booked separately over the phone and I booked assistance, a ramp onto the train, for all 4 trains (Euston – New Street, then New Street to University, then the same in reverse for the return) in one call, and that was quite the task let me tell you! Getting to Euston itself was pretty simple, we just took the Metropolitan line from Uxbridge to Euston Square and walked to Euston.
When it came to boarding the train at Euston, I must admit I felt kind of ignored when trying to make myself known at the assistance desk. I understand that it’s a busy station but it’s always a little odd to have staff look at you and then not acknowledge that you’re waiting.
On the train, the wheelchair space was next to the toilet, which was an issue for a couple of reasons. 1. The door slammed every time it closed which set off my startle reflex (which I’ve discussed more here if anyone wants to understand more about that) 2. Sitting next to a toilet is just kind of gross and not something I wanted to do for over an hour. Luckily I’m able to transfer out of my wheelchair into a seat so that’s what I did on this occasion. The stop before New Street, I transferred back into my wheelchair to prepare to disembark. Not long after this, I felt someone grab the handle of my wheelchair and, being a big advocate of #JustAskDontGrab I was about to politely ask this person to let go when they collapsed onto me. At this point I realised the person had used my chair to prevent themselves from collapsing so I was less annoyed about the grab because frankly I’d do the same thing if I was in that position. However, it was still scary, as you can imagine, having someone collapsed on top of me and being unable to move or leave the train until he had been moved to a seat. Thankfully it was the train’s final stop, so staff were able to help the person and get me off the train without too much issue.
Ticket Buying & Changing Trains at Birmingham New Street
The tickets for the New Street to University train were booked via Trainline but the assistance was still booked separately over the phone. In terms of getting between trains, we were simply walked through the station by the staff member who’d assisted us off the train from London.
On Train, Disembarking & Leaving at University
The journey itself was only short, so I simply parked in an unoccupied wheelchair space. When it came time to disembark, we were instantly met off the train with a ramp, so disembarking was completely uncomplicated which is just the way I like it, but it’s surprising how rarely that actually happens.
Just to explain the jump here, we were supposed to get the train back from University to New Street but ended up skipping that section of the journey as a friend dropped us directly at New Street. Pro Tip: inform the assistance staff if you’re not going to be taking a certain journey! We arrived at New Street to mildly frantic assistance staff wondering what had happened and why we weren’t on the train from University. I can admit that it’d completely slipped my mind to inform them because, frankly I didn’t expect them to be there to assist anyway! Which was obviously an error on my part but pretty neatly sums up how assistance usually works (or more often doesn’t) as a wheelchair user on the railways.
Getting On at Birmingham New Street
In terms of getting to the station, we were dropped in one of the station carparks. We then got to the station level using the oldest, smallest, most rickety lift I’d ever seen in my entire life. I honestly thought we’d end up stuck. From there we made our way to the assistance desks to request the assistance I’d prebooked to get onto the train.
On the train, I was again seated next to the toilet so, again, I transferred out onto a standard seat to avoid the constantly slamming door. Later in the trip, we were found by the train staff and informed that my chair would need to be folded and removed from the wheelchair space if someone who was staying in their wheelchair required it. Of course, that was completely fine and what I’d have done even if the staff had not mentioned it, it’s just common courtesy as far as I see. As it happened my chair did not end up having to be folded.
Disembarking & Leaving at London Euston
When it came time to leave the train at Euston, we ended up waiting around 10 minutes for assistance, which is around the standard waiting time for assistance by my experience (it shouldn’t be, but it is). When assistance did turn up I was greeted with “do you need a ramp?!” (bearing in mind I’d already prebooked assistance WITH A RAMP). I must admit it took all of my self-control not to sarcastically reply “nah mate I’ll just levitate off the train”. Silly questions lead to sarcastic answers. We were eventually let off the train and allowed to go on our way.
I hope you enjoyed this long overdue tale of my adventures to Birmingham on the train!
Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)