Easier assistance app will transform journeys for disabled rail passengers

Smartphone app, currently being trialled by four train companies, will be rolled out across Britain to revolutionise passenger assistance, making it easier for customers to book help at stations and get a more consistent and reliable service 

In a first for Britain’s transport sector, the rail industry is pressing ahead with an app that will transform the way that people with a disability can book assistance when they travel by train to make it easier, less stressful and less likely to go wrong. 

Currently customers can book in a number of ways including by phone or online, a time-consuming process where they provide contact details and specify the assistance they need every time. Staff at stations then receive a printed list of booked assistance each morning, which means when plans change, for example if trains are delayed or the customer misses their booked train, there is no way to update the list and staff can end up in the wrong place at the wrong time. The new system will resolve these issues.

The vast majority (85%) of customers are satisfied with passenger assistance according to the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), but when things go wrong, customers can end up without the assistance they were expecting or unable to travel at all. This means they can become distressed and anxious when using the railway. The new Passenger Assist app, developed by Transreport for the rail industry, will tackle these problems and see the rail companies delivering on their commitment to enable more people to benefit from the opportunities train travel opens up by:

  • enabling customers to book, change and cancel assistance quickly, which can currently take up to 40 minutes over the phone
  • allowing customers to create a user profile, specifying their personal details and the type of assistance they need, so recurring bookings become quicker
  • providing staff with live information, including key details about the customer and their journey, so they can provide a better service and accommodate short-notice requests
  • ensuring better staff communication so staff can anticipate and deliver changes in planned assistance.

The app will be rolled out in autumn next year once a staff version has been rolled out in April. It has been developed in collaboration with disability charities including Disability Rights UK and Anxiety UK and includes accessible features, such as the ability to change colour themes, fonts and text sizes. 

Robert Nisbet, Regional Director at the Rail Delivery Group, which represents the railway, says:

“We know we’ve got to do better to improve rail’s accessibility. We want everyone who has requested assistance to get the help they need, which is why we’re investing in this pioneering technology that has the needs of our customers at its heart. A few taps of the app will give customers more control, help our people do their jobs better, and deliver on the commitment in our long-term plan to enable more people to benefit from travelling by train.”

Paralympian Anne Wafula-Strike MBE, who has previously campaigned for better accessibility on the railway, says: 

“Although passenger assistance usually works, I’ve had awful experiences when it has failed so it’s great to see the rail industry addressing this and planning to change and improve for the benefit of disabled people. The app will make it so much easier to get assistance, and more importantly it will empower disabled people to travel without any fear. This is truly inclusion.”

West Midlands Railway, London Northwestern Railway, Greater Anglia, and South Western Railway are trialing the system to ensure it works effectively before it is used more widely across the network. 
Sarah Ward from Shrewsbury, who uses a wheelchair due to a neurological condition and has Asperger’s Syndrome, has been trialing the app since May and found it made a big difference to her experience of rail travel. Sarah Ward says:  

“For me, the current system of booking assistance in advance is really frustrating. Whilst staff are generally really helpful, it's not very flexible, and it often feels like I have to fit into the system, rather than the system working for me.

“With the app, I've found everything so much easier. It's great being able to do things, on the spot, literally at the touch of a button. I think that the app provides a really positive step in opening up rail travel to disabled people. It has enabled me to be much more flexible with my travel plans, and it's given me much more confidence in making journeys.”

In partnership with disability rights groups, the rail industry is working to make the railway more accessible to more people. Between 2014 and 2019, we are increasing the 450 step-free railway stations across the country by 110. We are also designing a universal ramp to make it easier for people in wheelchairs to board and alight from trains, as currently there are 25 ramps to fit different trains and platforms.

1. Passenger assistance is aimed at anyone who needs help with their train journey, from people with disabilities to parents with prams to elderly people. The rail industry has committed to increasing access to the railway, supporting more people to travel by train, in their long-term plan to change and improve, In Partnership for Britain’s Prosperity

2. Customers will still be able to book using the national freephone number on 0800 022 3720, which will forward them to the train company they need. By textphone, customers can use the free textphone forwarding service on 60083, which will send them the number they need. Customers can also book online at disabledpersons-railcard.co.uk/travel-assistance/. If customers want to book by email or fax, they can contact their train company directly. 

3. ORR’s Measuring Up: Annual Rail Consumer Report 2018 states that 85% of passengers are satisfied with Passenger Assist, but when the service fails it can lead to significant anxiety, distress and at times loss of confidence. 

4. Transport Accessibility Minister Nusrat Ghani says:

“I am determined to make sure that our railways are accessible to everyone, and that we remove any barriers faced by disabled people. That is why earlier this year we launched the Inclusive Transport Strategy – the next step in achieving a genuinely inclusive transport network that meets the needs of all people.

“This new Passenger Assist app will make it easier for disabled people to travel independently and with confidence across the entire network.”

5. Alan Benson, Chair of Transport for All says: 

“We are pleased that the rail industry is taking steps to improve the assistance they offer to Disabled and older passengers. Our Advice Line team still hears regularly from Disabled people sharing their stories of rail passenger assistance going wrong.

“This app as part of a wider overall Passenger Assist can really improve the journey experience of Disabled and older passengers, whether they use the app or not. We look forward to the rail industry backing this step change in the service our members receive.”

6. James Taylor, Head of Policy and Campaigns at disability charity Scope says:

“The current booking process is something disabled people have told us stands in the way of them using the rail network, so it’s great to see rail operators improving the assistance booking system.”
“This app should play an important role in simplifying the process making the assistance people need to travel much easier to book.”
“We hope this app is the first step on a journey that will see disabled people turn up and travel whenever they want.”

Contact Information

Rail Delivery Group Media Team