Sam and Brandon - Manchester Piccadilly 390119

“The railway should be accessible for all which is why it’s so important we listen.”

Brandon Peat, Avanti West Coast's Accessibility and Inclusion Manager, is committed to making train travel easy and convenient for all.

14 January 2022

Avanti West Coast wants everyone to be able to use the railway – whatever their needs. From extra help getting on and off trains to different ways to access information. Brandon Peat, highlights the importance of listening when shaping a long-term accessibility strategy.

Last month we announced that the Avanti West Coast website had been awarded the Shaw Trust Accessibility Accreditation. It’s a first for the rail industry and reflects a lot of hard work over the past eight months to make its content accessible for people with a range of disabilities.

It follows on from the launch of a dedicated social media forum for our disabled customers which provides an essential interactive online community where anyone can ask questions and share experiences.

Whilst I’m incredibly proud of both initiatives, it’s vital that we continue to move forward to enable independent travel for everyone. There is so much more we can do. And we will.

“If there’s one thing I’ve learnt since starting my role, it is just how much we take for granted. What for many might seem a straightforward task, can be so daunting for others.”

How? Well, the railway should be accessible for all which is why it’s so important that we listen. The ‘Accessible Rail Travel with Avanti West Coast’ group on Facebook is just one way we can do that and is proving ever popular. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt since starting my role, it is just how much we take for granted. What for many might seem a straightforward task, can be so daunting for others.

That’s why it was great to meet up with 15-year-old Sam Smith. The youngster (pictured below), who is a member of our Facebook Group, is autistic and suffers from anxiety. Whilst he loves his trains, his passion is very much one of his coping mechanisms. But when it comes to travelling on the railways, he readily admits it is with a large degree of trepidation.

To help better understand more about his nervousness, we arranged for Sam and his mum to spend a day on the network, sampling all three of our classes (First, Standard Premium and Standard). I caught up with him at Manchester Piccadilly on his way down to Milton Keynes, having already visited Birmingham, Blackpool, and Crewe for chat.

Sam Pendolino Cab

It was great to just listen.  Despite looking forward to the day he was worried the train might get cancelled, and despite his meticulous planning he feared he might get stranded and miss a connection. I’m pleased to report that the day ran smoothly, and I would like to thank Sam for taking the time to visit us and for his honesty. He also sent a lovely email of thanks the following day, which is really appreciated. Trains 1 Anxiety 0.

Listening is the theme of our new Regional Accessibility Panels. One of the first tasks will to be recruit for the two-hour online workshops in the coming months and it will be an opportunity for our customers to feed back on their local Avanti West Coast route and be part of the improvements being made.

We’ve also just about to finish an extensive programme of research with an independent agency that has looked at the end-to-end journey for our disabled customers.

The learnings from these lived experiences will help shape our long-term accessibility strategy and also feed into an accessibility hub we’re looking to launch on the website, providing customers with all the information they need in one place to ensure a safe and comfortable journey. This will include tips for travelling, FAQs, initiatives taking place and information on Passenger Assist, our dedicated service for those with special travel requirements.

And improving the Passenger Assist process is one of my top priorities. It’s vital we make this easier and more reliable, starting with the booking process to ensure our customers start their journey with reassurance.

So, 2022 is going to be a busy year and one that will see further progress to making our railway accessible, so that those who require extra assistance can do so safely and with confidence.

Main image: Brandon Peat and Sam Smith enjoy a chat at Manchester Piccadilly station.

Second image: Sam Smith gives the thumbs up from the cab of 390119.