Sunday, 1 April 2012

My most bizarre train travel experience

Reminded of it by Channel 4's 'No Go Britain' I thought I'd post my strangest - and worst - train journey ever.

I'd booked assistance as usual.

I'd booked the wheelchair space in coach C.

A member of staff got me onto the correct train.

So far, so good.

It wasn't a full train. But there was a group sitting in my pre-booked wheelchair space. 2 empty buggies, 2 mums holding babies sat on the 'flap down' seats. On the other side was a wheelchair user and 2 other group members. (this train has 2 wheelchair spaces! Miracle!)

So I asked if they could move the buggies slightly - (there was space for me and both buggies without folding them), and move to seats slightly further along the carriage. I explained I'd booked that space.

They said they couldn't. They wouldn't.

So I nipped back to the train door and asked a passing member of station staff for help as people wouldn't move from the wheelchair space.

He replied "They have to." And carried on his way.

I returned to the space I'd booked, and said "I'm afraid you need to move. I've booked this space and it is the only place I can travel safely."

They refused. It was impossible for them to move, they said. They HAD to sit there. But said I could sit behind the wheelchair user the other side. Where there was a mountain of bags.

Whenever I have travelled without securing my chair properly (e.g. straps in a taxi, or properly backed against the wall with my brakes on in a train) I have flipped, or nearly flipped my chair - and injured myself.  So I will not sit behind an unsecured wheelchair. If it tips and lands on me the damage to me won't be superficial. I won't take that risk. Besides, my moving the pile of bags wasn't an option.

I tried to explain this but it made no difference. By this time the doors were locked and the train starting to move. 

There was no way I could stop the train until I was safe. There was no way I could get off the train and wait for another one. So I had to make a split second decision as to how to minimise the damage this journey would cause me. I couldn't remain where I was. But there was a corner in the corridor, opposite the loo, where I could sit with enough support to avoid catastrophe. Provided I sat on the floor.

So I did. I spent an hour sat on the floor opposite the open toilet door. Wedged in a corner, clutching a doorframe to stay upright. Holding my chair to stop it tipping. People stepping over me to get to their seats. The joints of my pelvis slowly pulling apart, the pain levels steadily rising.

And yes. This was still better than the alternatives.

I spoke to the station staff at my destination station. On their advice, next time I will pull the emergency cord in the loo and kick up a fuss until I am given the chance to travel in safety.

It wasn't the practicalities that made this travel difficult, it was the attitudes. Common sense or simple courtesy could have transformed this nightmare into a dream.

[Edited to add: For another, and very different train travel story, see ]


  1. I have encountered this sort of selfish behaviour, as a disabled person ( as if your health problems were not enough) and the rudeness you get is quite uncalled for. i think the worst thing is the lack of help/support from the train staff. Those women should have been made to move and did no other passengers help? No probably not. Next time though, go for the communication cord, the massive embarressment to those women might have just taught them a lesson!!!

  2. Jeez I hate people like that! In Australia the communication cord is not an option for a wheelchair user as it is out of reach. DER.

  3. I have had the same situation on a bus here in Vancouver. Unfortunately the bus driver was not allowed to force people to move their strollers/buggies if they refuse to. The people I encountered had the same "I couldn't (wouldn't)" attitude that you described here. I had to wait for the next bus.

    Some people are just astoundingly selfish.

  4. I'm just playing devil's advocate here but for all you know, they genuinely couldn't move themselves/their bags. Not all disabilities are obvious...

    1. I am very aware that people often have invisible conditions - but given that they carried the bags off the train without problem, I suspect they had no significant impairment when it came to bag-moving. ;) And if they had, simply asking another passenger for a hand would have got round the issue.

  5. In London the bus drivers shift buggies and prams out of the disabled space even if they have to get off the bus and wait for the next one. However in my town I saw a wheelchair user turned away because there were two prams in the disabled space. This was on a bus going to the hospital. I wasn't close enough to complain. The wheelchair user just turned away.


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