Disabled charity founder left '˜humiliated' by train incident
The founder of a Lancaster charity for people with neurological conditions says she was left 'completely humiliated and exposed' after being told she would not be helped off a train in her mobility scooter.
Sharon Jackson, who has multiple sclerosis, says she was told a ramp would not be provided and that she would have to carry her mobility scooter off the train herself.
Sharon, who is the founder of the Neuro Drop In Centre in Lancaster, had booked a return journey from Lancaster to Newcastle via Carlisle, with assistance for her mobility scooter where needed.
However, on her journey home on Sunday evening, Sharon encountered a problem when there was no room for her scooter to be stored on the two-carriage Northern train between Newcastle and Carlisle.
“The whole area for the disabled access was full with a large bicycle and people’s luggage,” Sharon, 59, said.
“I had to travel for 35 minutes sitting on my scooter in the aisle. Normally I would fold it up and sit in a seat.”
Sharon said she was then informed by the guard that her scooter shouldn’t have been allowed on the train and that a ramp wouldn’t be provided for her to leave the train at Carlisle.
“I was told I would have to carry it off myself,” she said.
“It was a horrible situation. I got a bit frightened; it was dark and my companion is 70 and couldn’t be expected to carry the scooter.”
Sharon rang her husband Graham, who tried to contact Carlisle station and then British Transport Police.
At Carlisle, Sharon was assisted by the police and staff from Virgin Trains, who used their own ramp to help her from the Northern train.
They then put her in a first class carriage to Lancaster.
“I understand that sometimes it can be a problem with mobility scooters but the rule has to be consistent,” Sharon said.
“I had booked assisted travel for the whole journey and had no other problems.
“By the time I got to Carlisle I was very shaken. It exacerbated all the anxiety that goes with having a neurological condition.
“I felt completely humiliated, the whole thing was just so embarrassing.
“I couldn’t believe it was happening, I felt very exposed.
“I understand there are always going to be issues with travelling but it is shocking to know that 80 per cent of disabled people choose not to travel because they are worried about this kind of thing.
“We live in a society where we should accept that everyone is different. We just want to be normal and my normal is sometimes using a mobility scooter. “I paid for my ticket and I am just as entitled to travel as everyone else.”
A spokesman for Northern said: “We can only apologise to Mrs Jackson for her experience travelling with Northern. As we work to improve our services, we would welcome a formal complaint, which can be made by calling 0800 200 6060.
“At the moment, the only mobility scooters we can take on our trains are those that can be folded and carried on as a piece of luggage.
“This is due to the restricted manoeuvrability and stability of mobility scooters and the design of our current trains. Most of our trains were built before mobility scooters were introduced and so not designed with them in mind.
“Our train crews are happy to assist with loading and unloading a folded scooter. We participate in the industry-wide Passenger Assist programme and encourage customers who may require assistance when travelling on our services to contact us before they travel on 0800 138 5560 to see how we can help.
“As we work to upgrade our train fleet, we want to improve access for people with all disabilities. For example, we are currently trialling a new mobility scooter booking system on some routes as part of a policy review.
“On this occasion, the conductor did explain the scooter policy, but once the train arrived into Carlisle went on, with the assistance of other staff at the station, to help the customer disembark so she could continue her onward journey.”