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UK failure to meet disability rules ‘deeply frustrating’

The UK Government will allow light rail and metro vehicles that do not meet new accessibility regulations to continue to run – but describes the situation as “deeply frustrating”.

The UK Government is to allow light rail and metro vehicles that do not meet new accessibility regulations to continue to run – but has written to the operators affected to describe the situation as “deeply frustrating”.

In letters to the Docklands Light Railway, Nexus (Tyne and Wear Metro), Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (Glasgow Subway) and Transport for London (London Underground) sent in December, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport Baroness Vere wrote that authorities had “ten years to prepare for the 31 December 2019 deadline set in the Rail Vehicle Accessibility (Non-Interoperable Rail System) Regulation 2010.”

She added that the “Secretary of State’s powers to permit
non-compliant vehicles to continue in operation have not been used lightly and should never result in detriment to the quality of disabled passengers’ journeys” and that delivering an accessible service “must not be delayed any longer.”

Under the regulations, new vehicles from 2010 (and older vehicles on refurbishment) had to meet new rules making them more easily accessible – covering aspects such as handholds, priority seats and provision for wheelchairs. While RVAR 2010 covers trams and non-main line vehicles such as those on the London Underground, heavy rail trains are covered by equivalent rules encompassed in the EU-wide Persons of Reduced Mobility Technical Specification for Interoperability.

Most vehicles on the country’s systems are now compliant, with further deliveries expected to replace the remainder that are not. However, some observers have criticised the UK Government stance, on the basis that the country’s rail systems are reliant on central funding to acquire new rolling stock, which is often delayed.

Exemptions have been given for vehicles on the Glasgow Subway (until July 2022), Bakerloo line (January 2022/January 2024), Docklands Light Railway (December 2024), the Central and Waterloo and City lines (January 2025), Tyne and Wear (July 2026, for Metrocars 4001, 4002, 4040, 4083) and Piccadilly line (up to January 2027).

Various dispensations have also been given across the UK’s heavy rail network, including for the unpopular Pacer diesel multiple units that date from the mid-1980s.