Alok Sharma, the Member of Parliament for Reading West, recently attended a meeting at Reading station which he organised for his constituents, Jon and Tomas Rey-Hastie, with Network Rail to discuss disability access at the station and wider issues across the rail network.
Jon and Tomas Rey-Hastie, who have recently moved to Reading, contacted Alok in March to raise their concerns about level boarding at Reading station. Jon and Tomas explained that they often travel to London for work and leisure, and therefore one of their reasons for moving to Reading was its good rail connections, particularly with the upcoming Elizabeth line extension.
As a wheelchair user, one of the biggest enablers for Jon to travel is level boarding and step-free access. Jon explained that improvements on the London underground network and Thameslink allow him to travel independently, as he can get on and off trains without having to wait for a ramp to be provided.
Alok raised Jon and Tomas’ concerns with Network Rail and Great Western Railway and subsequently organised for his constituents to meet with Reading Station Manager Andy Phillips and Network Rail Public Affairs Manager Alice Offley.
At this meeting, Jon and Tomas requested for Network Rail to consider a dedicated Elizabeth line platform at Reading station, which could allow for the installation of a platform hump which would enable level boarding.
Jon also asked about the possibility of a Changing Places toilet to be installed at the station. Changing Places toilets give severely disabled people and their families the opportunity to visit public places which they otherwise would not be able to do because they ensure that their toilet needs are met in a safe and dignified way. The Government’s manifesto set out that where you live, shop, go out, travel or park your car should not be determined by your disability. Increasing the provision of Changing Places toilets aims to go some way towards fulfilling this commitment and that is why the Government launched a consultation in May to seek views on how to do this.
Network Rail informed Alok, Jon and Tomas that they would look into the matters raised at the meeting and would revert once they had some further information.
Alok Sharma said: “It was a constructive discussion between my constituents Jon and Tomas, and Network Rail about disability access issues at Reading station, including level boarding on platforms, lift availability and Changing Places toilets. I look forward to detailed feedback from Network Rail on these issues. The Government consultation on Changing Places toilets is still open until 21 July and I would encourage anyone interested in this issue to make their views known. More information about the consultation can be found here:www.gov.uk/government/consultations/changing-places-toilets.”
Tomas Rey-Hastie said: “I am grateful to Alok for meeting with Jon and me to discuss these important matters. The railways have made tremendous progress in accessibility and I am sure that this will continue until everyone has the opportunity to travel confidently and independently.”
Jon Rey-Hastie added: “This meeting provided an excellent opportunity to improve access at Reading station. Improving facilities and increasing the provision of level boarding has the potential to transform the experience of rail travel for disabled people.”
Photo: (from left to right): Alok Sharma MP, Alice Offley, Public Affairs Manager at Network Rail, Jon Rey-Hastie, Andy Phillips, Reading Station Manager and Tomas Rey-Hastie