Network Rail launches Spaces and Places for Everyone Inclusion Strategy

Comedian Francesca Martinez challenges rail industry’s disability bolt-on’ culture


Renowned disabled comic, Francesca Martinez, has teamed up with Network Rail to launch a new campaign to improve disabled passengers’ experiences of travelling by rail after challenging its historic ‘bolt-on’ culture. With the number of railway passengers exceeding 1.6bn a year and two-thirds (67%) of disabled people saying they use the railway, Network Rail is launching its campaign, Spaces and Places for Everyone, to set out how it will make the railway more inclusive for every passenger.

Francesca, who has cerebral palsy but prefers to describe herself as “a bit wobbly”, often uses the train to travel around the country for her work as a stand-up comic. While she admits that she has seen a number of accessibility improvements to the railway in recent years, she says that at times she feels as though her needs are “invisible to the rest of society” and that accessibility has historically been a “bolt-on”.

According to research carried out by Populus and commissioned by Network Rail, it would seem that Francesca is not alone. Out of the two-thirds of disabled people who travel by train (67%), a quarter do not feel that their journey will be an easy one (24%), while a third (33%) said they would use the train more if it were more accessible to them.

Encouragingly though, two-thirds of people with a disability (63%) would feel confident using the rail network independently versus 79% of non-disabled people, while more than half of disabled people (58%) believe that accessibility across the rail network is improving despite there being more to do.

Commenting, Francesca Martinez said:

“As a disabled passenger, I often feel as though my needs are invisible to the rest of society and that sometimes people like me are seen as a burden rather than as valued passengers. Most people consider taking the train just a part of everyday life, but there are millions of people like me who need to carefully plan their journeys so they can get around without difficulty.

“This is why I am supporting Network Rail in its campaign to make the railway more suitable for the modern world and accommodating of every single passenger, regardless of their needs. It’s really reassuring that the millions of disabled people in Britain are being considered right from the very start before rail projects leave the drawing board rather than being bolted on as they have been in the past, which will make a huge difference to their rail experiences in the future.”

Mark Carne, chief executive at Network Rail said:

“Most of today’s railway was designed during the Victorian era when attitudes towards disability were very different. Since then, access for disabled people has been tagged on at a later stage, rather than being a part of the initial design strategy for our railway. We know it hasn’t been good enough in the past, and we need to make it easier for disabled people to plan journeys and travel by rail.

“We are committed to changing this, and doing what is necessary to make sure that inclusivity is deeply embedded in our culture. Only then will our railway be a place where everyone can travel equally, confidently and independently.”  

Network Rail, which is responsible for managing 20,000 miles of railway and some of Britain’s biggest and busiest stations, is committed to ‘inclusive design’ – which means putting all passengers at the heart of the design process rather than adding on provisions at a later stage . Inclusive design is already being delivered across its stations, including:

  • A dog ‘spending area’ at the recently rebuilt Birmingham New Street where guide dogs can ‘spend a penny’.
  • At Reading station, visually impaired people have the option of a special audio guide to help them navigate through the station and the town, thanks to a partnership with Microsoft.
  • Lifts and escalators to all platforms at the redeveloped London Bridge, the first half of which opens to passengers this summer.
  • Network Rail has set up the Built Environment Accessibility Panel which consists of disabled passengers who are also experts in inclusive design. The panel provides expert technical and strategic advice to our projects teams.

As part of the campaign, Network Rail invited Francesca to interview Mark Carne so she could find out first-hand what the company is doing to change the way it caters for disabled people.


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