Back in October, I headed up to Northallerton to visit editor extraordinaire Nikki. This meant 4 trains and 3 different train companies (CrossCountry, TransPennine Express and London Northeastern Railway). Here’s how the trip went for me as an electric wheelchair user.
Ticket Buying & Getting On at Birmingham New Street
Ticket wise, I purchased my tickets through Trainline as per usual. When it came to the assistance booking, I initially tried to book via the Passenger Assistance app, but the trains it was finding weren’t the trains I had booked (it kept trying to give me my connecting train at the wrong station) so I had to book assistance over the phone anyway. I ended up booking the assistance specifically through TransPennine Express as they were the only ones with phone lines open after I finished work. I must say they were very nice and helpful and were quickly able to get my assistance booked for the correct trains. When it came to travel day, I finished up at work and then headed straight to New Street. Once there, I made myself known to assistance staff and then waited in the assistance lounge. When it came time to head to my train, we discovered that the first lift we tried down to the platform wasn’t working. This meant we had to head all the way across the station to the other lift which leads to those platforms. This did leave me a little nervous that I’d be cutting it fine for my train (despite arriving 20 minutes beforehand as I was told to.
It was a bit of a mission to get into my seat as CrossCountry trains (which I was on) are quite small and skinny and thus quite difficult to manoeuvre in. Once I was seated, I fully realised that I’d actually been placed in the first-class wheelchair space (The assistance staff did make me aware when I was being walked to the train but I didn’t fully believe them because I only had a standard ticket). But I wasn’t going to complain because first class meant a free sandwich and free coffee, and anyone who knows me knows that the way to my heart is caffeine. A trespasser on the line just ahead of our train at Sheffield meant that my already tight 13-minute change was reduced to 3 minutes, so I was obviously VERY concerned about missing my connection.
Disembarking at York and Changing Trains
Thankfully, due to some excellent communication between my train staff and the staff at York, and the fact the other train was only across the platform, I was able to make my tight connection. Once we finally pulled into York, I negotiated the very steep ramp (with the help of 2 staff members), dashed across the platform to where the ramp was already set up on the other train and then made it onto my train.
As I said I only just made the train, I also realised that I was alone in the carriage, which was nice after the stress of the connection. Other than that, it was only a 20-minute train so there was nothing much to report.
Disembarking & Leaving at Northallerton
When we arrived at Northallerton it was the train staff who disembarked me off of the train with the ramp and Nikki collected me from the platform. She then helped me negotiate the very steep ramp out of the station (driving backwards to help with my spatial awareness, so I didn’t feel like I was going to tip out of my chair).
Getting On at Northallerton
When it was sadly time for me to head home, Nikki and I arrived at the station more than 20 minutes before my train, as I had been told. The station staff member was then very helpful in explaining the works that were going on to install lifts to both platforms (currently serviced by steep ramps). I believe one lift was supposed be installed in December and one will be installed for Easter.* The station staff member also called ahead to staff on the train to find out where in the train they were stationed. I thought this was somewhat weird, why would he need to contact train staff? I then realised later that it was because the train staff would have to put me on the train as the station staff member wasn’t yet trained to use this ramp (don’t ask me how you can be considered fully trained enough to do the job and yet not be trained to help all disabled passengers onto all trains, I was as baffled as you are). This change of who was boarding me onto the train also meant I had to be boarded onto a different carriage than my assistance was booked on, in order for the train staff to be there to assist me.
There was nothing to report on the actual train journey as it was only 20 minutes.
Disembarking at York and Changing Trains
On arrival at York, it became apparent that the station staff hadn’t been informed about me being moved carriages and so were waiting at the wrong carriage. As train staff weren’t allowed to disembark me using the onboard ramp (again, don’t ask me why) I couldn’t immediately disembark at York. Thankfully station staff figured out the miscommunication just in time before train staff ‘broke the rules’ and disembarked me using the onboard ramp’. In terms of switching trains at York, I was able to grab dinner and a coffee and take a bathroom break (in the radar key disabled toilet at the station) before meeting station staff back on the same platform to board the Birmingham bound train.
The Birmingham train was a London Northeastern Railway (LNER) train and I was in the standard class wheelchair space. Other than that, there was nothing really to report as it was a fairly standard journey.
Disembarking & Leaving at Birmingham New Street
On arrival at New Street, station staff were already waiting on the platform to disembark me. I did have to request several times for the staff member to provide me some assistance navigating the very steep ramp, but I put that down to speaking through masks in a very busy train/station. Once I was disembarked, I made my way along the platform and up in the lift to the concourse. I then called Nikki to ‘walk me home’ (it was dark and I’m a disabled woman travelling alone, safety first) and left the station.
I hope this insight into travelling between Birmingham New Street and Northallerton, via York, as an electric wheelchair user was helpful.
*I have found out that, since I took this trip, both lifts at Northallerton station have now been installed (with one currently in working order and the other due to be working in just a few weeks). This also means that the super steep ramp from my arrival at Northallerton is gone, with a much more manageable ramp out to the car park (albeit a ramp that makes the journey out of the station about 5 minutes longer).
Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)