'I feel like a second class citizen' disabled rail passenger says over absence of wheelchair access

A disabled train passenger says he's been made to feel like a "second class citizen" as the wait for wheelchair-friendly access at his local station goes on.

Tuesday, 26th February 2019, 5:35 pm
Updated Tuesday, 26th February 2019, 5:42 pm
At the front: Damon Nicholson and his cousin Stephanie Downes are unable to use one of Pontefract Monkhill's platforms because there is no step-free access. At the back from left to right are Damon's sister Mary Nicholson, Stephanie's sister-in-law Susan Smith, Damon's father's partner Karina Nicholson and Pontefract councillors Clive Tennant, Pat Garbutt and David Jones.

Damon Nicholson, 31, cannot get off the train at Pontefract Monkhill Station when travelling back from Wakefield and Leeds, because Platform 1 can only be exited via a set of steps.

Instead he has to travel onto the next stop, which is Knottingley, and get on a train there which will take him back to Monkhill, where he can get off on Platform 2 which does have disabled access.

On other occasions, he will stop at either Castleford or Glass Houghton and get the bus to take him back home to Pontefract.

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Campaigners have called for better access to the station for years.

But Mr Nicholson is angry that he has to do a seven-mile round trip just to get home when he visits Wakefield for hospital appointments and outings with friends.

Campaigners have asked for the station to be given disabled access for several years, but their calls are falling on deaf ears.

Mr Nicholson said: "This has been going on ever since I started using the trains, which was when I was 18.

"I feel like a second class citizen every time I use the train and it just really upsets me.

Pontefract North councillor Lorna Malkin said the situation was "unacceptable".

"I've paid for my disabled railcard and I always pay my fares on time, and I don't know what I'm getting for my money.

"It's very frustrating having to travel separately from my friends."

Money is being spent on Monkhill Station this year, but only to make its two platforms longer so it can accommodate bigger trains with more carriages.

Mr Nicholson added: "If they're extending the platforms and making improvements, my opinion is surely they should kill two birds with one stone and put in disabled access at the same time.

"If they did something about it it would make my life a whole lot easier."

Train operator Northern was asked about the issue at a public meeting earlier this month, but the firm said that facilities at stations was a matter for Network Rail, who are responsible for maintaining railway infrastructure.

Northern's stakeholder manager Pete Myers also said that disabled passengers were always offered a taxi in situations where they couldn't get to their destination, but Mr Nicholson insists this isn't the case.

"They don't offer you a taxi," he said.

"I've been told there isn't any available, and they don't have enough disabled-friendly taxis.

"It's not just me that's affected. I have a friend who is a new mum who can't use the station because she's got a pram.

"My cousin's also disabled. She lives in Normanton, which has disabled access but it's difficult for her when she comes to see me."

Pontefract North councillor Lorna Malkin, who has taken up Mr Nicholson's case, called the situation "totally unacceptable".

She said: "There has been investment made at the station and in the car park, but now we need investment in access. There should be no issues with people not being able to get on and off at a station.

"It’s ridiculous in this day and age that people have to do that."

A Network Rail spokesperson said: “There are a number of stations across the country, like Pontefract Monkhill, which were built many years ago with little consideration of accessibility.

"We are committed to improving access at stations and work closely with our funders, including the Department for Transport (DfT) to deliver improvements.

"DfT has a dedicated fund, known as ‘Access for All’ which is used to make improvements at stations. The decision about which schemes receive funding is made by the DfT with the support of Network Rail and train operating companies.

"This process considers a number of factors including current access arrangements, passenger numbers and feedback from local stakeholders.

"Unfortunately, Pontefract Monkhill does not currently have funding in the current ‘Access for All’ funding cycle (2014-2019) but should additional funds become available through third party investment, we would be happy to work on improved access solutions with all interested parties."

A spokesman for Northern said: "We want our network to be as accessible as possible and are doing all we can to make our trains and stations accessible to all.

"If a station is inaccessible to a customer we will provide alternative transport, at no extra cost, to the nearest or most convenient accessible station to enable them to continue their journey.

"Customers who are unsure whether a station they intend to use is accessible or not can call 0800 200 6060 for more details."