Recently I had to take another essential lockdown train journey, this time from Birmingham Snow Hill to Hall Green for a job-related visit, so I thought I’d give you an insight into the process again since the stations were different.
Ticket Buying & Getting On at Birmingham Snow Hill
This was a right palaver if I’m honest. Well actually, buying the ticket was because, as with my previous lockdown train travel blog post, the 2 stations I was travelling between are on the West Midlands network. This means that, with my West Midlands Disabled Travel Pass, travel between those stations is free. The assistance booking is where things got complicated. I initially phoned West Midlands Railway passenger assistance line (as it was them I was travelling with) and they requested my wheelchair dimensions prior to making the booking. This was not information I wanted to give since I did not understand why it was necessary and had not been asked for this information the recent previous time I’d travelled with West Midlands Railway.
So I decided to try and book my assistance through Cross Country Trains instead, but they were asking for the same information. In the end I just gave in and located and passed on the dimensions so I could get my assistance booked.
Further discussions informed me that asking for the dimensions is a nationwide policy that was introduced around 18 months ago (which makes sense as it’s around that time that other train companies I used started asking for the information). However, I was also told that you should be asked for the dimensions once and then it goes onto the system, so hopefully that’s me done having to give the dimensions.
BUT the dimensions saga wasn’t even the end of my issues! I originally wanted to travel from Birmingham Moor Street to Hall Green, but the lifts at Moor Street are currently out of order, which makes the platforms inaccessible to me. So I had to make decision to walk up to Snow Hill (from where my train goes THROUGH Moor Street) and make the journey that way. Other than these accessibility issues and the additional request for dimensions, the process of booking assistance was broadly the same. On the day of my trip, I arrived and made myself known to a staff member who said that another staff member would meet me on the platform. I should also say that I arrived at 11am for a train that departed at 11:07 and was still put on the train with time to spare, so this request that those who need assistance turn up 20 minutes early for their train definitely seems excessive and somewhat unnecessary.
The actual journey was only around 15 minutes so there wasn’t time for anything too dramatic to dramatic to happen. One thing I would say is that on this train the wheelchair space involves parking against a flip down seat, which is difficult to do when the seat won’t stay flipped up, because you have to try and park whilst holding the seat up at the same time!
Disembarking & Leaving at Hall Green
When the train arrived at Hall Green, there was no sign of station staff. Then, despite multiple yells for help, the doors closed and the train began moving away with me still onboard. This meant I had to press the emergency button and stop the train in order to get off. I was then informed that staff had recently switched over and incoming staff were not informed I was on that train or required assistance, even though I booked assistance ahead of time as per the system. Once I FINALLY got off the train, it was a simple case of heading up the ramp and out of the station.
Getting On at Hall Green
For the return journey I was using the same “ticket” (my disabled travel pass) and had intended to travel on the same assistance booking. However, my appointment finished early which meant I could catch a significantly earlier train. I informed staff that I wished to catch an earlier train and from there it was a fairly simple process, as they just cancelled my later assistance booking and put me on the next train back to Snow Hill
Once again, the actual journey was only about 15 minutes so nothing dramatic happened. The flip down seat in the wheelchair space actually stayed flipped up this time, which made it much easier to park.
Disembarking & Leaving at Birmingham Snow Hill
On arrival at Snow Hill, a staff member was waiting on the platform with a ramp which meant I could simply go down the ramp and get straight off the train. I then decided to make a bathroom stop before leaving the station but realised I didn’t have my radar key so I asked staff if I could borrow their key. It turned out the toilet on my platform had issues with the lock and someone had shut the door (staff usually left it open) which meant the lock had jammed. Thankfully, staff managed to get the door open with a pair of scissors in the lock. They were very helpful and saved me having to make a trip to the other disabled toilet on a platform (yes I know I shouldn’t have to be thankful about being able to use the bathroom like everyone else, but I really appreciated their working to fix the issue rather than fobbing me off with an excuse.)
I hope this post has provided some insight into what it’s like travelling between Birmingham Snow Hill and Hall Green with West Midlands Railways as a wheelchair user under national lockdown.
Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)