Train Journey's Are Never Simple When You're In A Wheelchair: My Disaster Trip
You'd think travelling via train in a wheelchair would be simple, wouldn't you? What could go wrong? Passenger assistance is booked, the assistant meets you, gets a ramp, you wheel onto the train, and the same happens at the other end. Easy right? Hell-to-the-no. Nope. Nada. Nah.
It's becoming a joke now. Travelling by train is a nightmare, I hate it, I want to avoid it at all costs, but I have a lot of hospital appointments in London, so I kinda have to suck it up.
Last Wednesday I took the train from Wellingborough to London, St Pancras. I arrived at the station, booked in at the front desk and five minutes before my train was due to arrive I was greeted by a passenger assistant with a ramp. It went swimmingly. We (my boyfriend was with me) arrived at St Pancras just before 10 am and once again, an assistant was there to meet me. This has never EVER happened before. I'm always stuck on the train, waiting for someone to show up with a ramp - however, this morning the staff were on the ball. I was in shock at how easy it was, and how this had never happened before.
Anyway, I was in London for three days because I was having some pretty gruelling autonomic tests at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery. My tests were due to end on Friday around 5 pm so I'd booked an 8 pm train home so we could get some food in the three hour window.
I woke up on Friday morning with a killer migraine, I felt like Death had sliced the back of my head open with his scythe, I felt sick, irritable and just wanted to go home. Alas, I had one last test at NHNN. I took some meds and tried to go back to sleep. When I eventually woke up, I wasn't allowed to eat as I couldn't four hours before my appointment, so I was hangry, in pain, and my head throbbed. I went to the hospital for the last assessment (which I'll write a whole post on so keep a look out if you want to know how that went) and just after 4 pm, I was discharged. We walked (I wheeled) to St Pancras to get food and look in the shops whilst we waited for our train home later that evening.
At 7:30 pm, Ian and I went over to the Customer Info desk to let the staff know that I'd booked passenger assistance. There were four members of staff stood around chatting and not one of them looked at me even though I must have said 'excuse me' at least five times. Finally, one of them actually acknowledged my existence and as I started talking he turned his back and walked off. I mean why would he have to converse with a customer? I eventually got someone else's attention at the desk and he said he'd radio through to passenger assistance and get someone to come and help us. We waited inside the barriers whilst three staff members laughed their heads off, chatted and didn't even give me a second look. I was getting really upset and frustrated, whilst my boyfriend filled up with rage.
Ten minutes later, after we were still getting ignored, Ian asked if there was any info regarding the assistance; the guy was rude and sulkily picked up his radio again. It got to 7:55 and there was absolutely no sign of someone helping us on the train. My anxiety was high, I was on the verge of tears and I just wanted to go home. Ian was really pissed off now, and asked, 'what's going on with this assistance, because we don't want to miss our train?' And the guy with a smartarse attitude, who shouldn't be dealing with customers replied, 'I've radioed through and they're not coming.'
At this point, I could feel sick at the back of my throat. Ian asked him if he was taking the piss and I told him I'd spent three days in hospital having tests. His colleague rolled his eyes and the other guy stated, 'you'll just have to get the next train.'
No, no, no, I won't. I'd paid for this train ticket at this time. I'd booked passenger assistance. I was getting on this fucking train. I was infuriated. My boyfriends blood was boiling. They were treating me like I didn't matter. The customer service guy (he shouldn't be called that as his service was deplorable) was rude, unapologetic and simply didn't give a shit if I never got home.
I don't know how I didn't cry. My week had been tough. My day had been awful. I wanted to go home but I couldn't get on a train because I relied on East Midlands Trains to help me with a ramp and they just didn't care.
Eventually the guy said he would check if any of the ramps were unlocked and they were. He made out like he was doing us a massive favour, but if it was that simple why didn't he do that twenty minutes ago? He got us on the train, sat us in First Class and told us to complain to Network Rail. Now my boyfriend used to work on the railway and knows that the guy gave us false information. I booked my assistance through East Midlands Trains and it was them I'd have to complain to; the dude clearly just didn't want to get his colleagues in shit.
I tweeted EMTrains to tell them how awful my experience had been and how I hadn't been met by passenger assistance. They apologised and gave the whole 'we understand your frustration' BS. They then told me to tweet EMTrains before my next journey so they could check my assistance would be waiting for me. So, not only do I have to book a ticket, book passenger assistance, but I also have to tweet them to make sure someone is doing their job right? What next, drive the bloody train? How about train your staff to do their job correctly and mistakes like this wouldn't happen?
Every train journey I've been on has been an absolute shambles but this one was the worst. I was treated disgustingly, I was ignored, spoken to like crap and felt like vermin. I've made a complaint and not been offered compensation, even though it states on their website that I should have the cost of my journey refunded (like I have in the past when they've not met me). I'm not too bothered about the money, I simply want the service to be better. I know too many wheelchair users that tell me how they hate travelling via train for this exact reason and it's absolutely appalling. We're in 2016, why is this still an issue?
I really don't want to travel with them again but it's the only service to London and like I said, I have hospital appointments there. Agency is removed when requiring passenger assistance; I'm relying on another person, someone I've never met, to help, care, ASSIST me in getting on and off the train. I have no control over their actions but surely booking the assistance and showing up is enough for them to do their job properly? Why does getting a train whilst in a wheelchair have to be so bloody difficult? Sort it out, ffs. And please train your staff to treat people like people!