2,000 stations now audited in bid to help boost inclusivity across the entire network

The work will also enable disabled people to have more of a say in how they travel and help grow diversity in our workforce. According to the 2020-2021 Family Resources Survey, of the 14.6 million people in the UK who have a disability, 21 per cent are working age adults. However, with an employment rate of 53 per cent, compared to 82 per cent for non-disabled people, these people are less likely to be in active employment. Currently, disabled people can find travelling on the rail network a stressful experience, especially if someone hasn’t been able to plan and prepare for the journey properly.

The Department for Transport appointed Atkins, a member of the SNC-Lavalin Group, in 2021 to undertake a detailed accessibility audit of all 2,500+ GB railway stations. The audit, first pledged in the 2021 Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail, will help identify where improvements can be made and highlight existing areas of excellence.

The audit focuses on station attributes spanning access routes, stations entrances, concourses, ticket halls and information points, platform furniture, waiting facilities, tactile warning surfaces, sanitary facilities, steps, ramps, inclines, escalators, lifts, bridges, subways, track crossings, lighting and the platform/train interface. Holistically, it also examines the broader passenger experience regarding arrival and onward journey options, including bus stops, taxi ranks, parking, cycle parking and other connections.

The findings will provide the information needed for the rail sector to remove barriers and eventually enable disabled travellers to better plan their journeys. It will also help shape future investment in accessible rail travel as a part of the Great British Railways Transition Team’s (GBRTT) National Rail Accessibility Strategy.

The audit will also provide the Department with a comprehensive data set they can use to help inform investment decisions. It will also enable a basis for providing the travelling public with reliable accessibility information and thereby help improve the passenger experience.

Rail Minister, Wendy Morton MP, said: ‘We want to ensure everyone has confidence to use the rail network, which is why our accessibility audit of every station across Great Britain is such an important part of the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail.

‘This unprecedented project will have a positive, real-life impact for passengers and double-down on our promise to make our network inclusive for all. With 2,000 stations now audited, we’re making good progress on our commitment, and we’ll continue to press on full steam ahead.’

A diverse supply chain with specialist knowledge
This ground-breaking programme is being led by Atkins with specialist support from global technology company Hitachi Energy; software as a service business K2Fly; equality, diversity and inclusion specialists, Goss Consultancy Limited (GCL); data management and intelligent mobility pioneers You.Smart.Thing.; surveying and sustainability engineering consultants, Crayside Consulting; survey specialists 1st Horizon; and CPC Project Services.

The team set out to deliver a project that was undertaken with – as well as for – disabled people. This meant drawing not only on the experience of project members but utilising a panel of disabled people who helped inform the project methodology and how the audit findings would be used, taking on board the requirements of a wide range of individuals, including those with visible and hidden disabilities.

The project used this input to develop a set of persona narratives spanning mobility, visual, auditory, neurological, metabolic and complex needs which helped identify how the built-in barriers were ‘disabling’ people and thereby supporting the ‘Social Model’ over the ‘Medical Model’ of Disability. It also enabled the team to move away from the People with Reduced Mobility (PRM) terminology used in the Rail Industry, which majors on step-free reporting, to consider diverse station-user experiences.

The programme completed the 1,000th audit in the first eight months and has recently completed an audit on the 2,000th station. It remains on schedule to finish all the audits by the end of 2022, with the detailed audit findings being submitted in its final report in the Spring of 2023.

As Sukhy Duggal, Atkins Client Director for the DfT, explains: ‘Better accessibility to rail stations and services will play a key part in helping to improve mobility options. Hopefully, it will also help bring more diversity into the workforce by enabling easier journeys and improving connectivity for disabled passengers through putting customer focus and satisfaction at the heart of the programme.’

GCL and Atkins have a very successful and established working relationship and have previously collaborated on several transport-related projects. The nationwide GCL Experience Reality Insight Panel comprises approximately 400 people from different backgrounds and circumstances. Many of the panel have disabilities. This panel enabled the project team to utilise the personal insights of disabled people, whilst delivering the project professionally.

Nick Goss, Managing Director of GCL, explains: ‘From the outset, we recognised the audit was a once in a generation opportunity to systematically assess the GB’s rail network’s station portfolio for accessibility and develop a fit for purpose asset management plan for access related enhancements in the future.’

In addition, GCL’s team of specialists accredited by the National Register of Access Consultants (NRAC) has brought additional capacity to the project by working with the Atkins NRAC team. Together, they have refined the information capture methodology, provided quality assurance of the station audits, and trained the surveying team in disability awareness and access auditing, with several young surveyors commenting it has transformed how they now perceive the world about them.

Enabling targeted investment to improve station accessibility
Ultimately, the station’s accessibility audit will help inform better decision-making regarding funding future investments. By targeting investment to improve accessibility, it will help the railway industry to improve the travel experience for disabled passengers.

It also provides an opportunity to make a tangible and lasting impact on the quality of information available to disabled people. One of the potential uses of the audit results would be to help create a new public database. Developing such a system that would be accessible to third party journey planning tools, should enable people to better plan their journeys.

As the same method and data collection techniques are being utilised across every audit, it will deliver a consistent baseline of accessibility across all GB railway stations, which will enable easier maintenance of audit data in the future.

Helping to make stations better places
The station’s accessibility programme is just one activity that seeks to improve our railway stations and encourage greater use. Atkins also worked on West Midlands Trains (WMT), Stations as Places programme which looks to develop local railway stations to become hubs at the centre of community activity, rather than simply access points onto the rail network.

Atkins provided engagement expertise to the alliance between West Midlands Trains, the West Midlands Rail Executive (WMRE) and Network Rail, across circa 30 stations spanning the West Midlands Railway and London Northwestern Railway network. The vision for the alliance running the Stations as Places programme is for railway stations to be an asset highly valued within the
community. Reinvigorating these stations will enable them to contribute to economic growth and act as a catalyst for delivering social value.

Between the two initiatives, the aim is to improve connectivity, passenger experience and accessibility. Activities such as these will help reinvigorate our stations to be more valuable to the passengers and the local communities they serve.