Mum in wheelchair left ‘terrified’ after needing passengers to help her off train when staff failed to show up

By Joe Coughlan, Local Democracy Reporter

A mum in a wheelchair said Southeastern staff had failed to help her on several occasions, leaving other passengers to help get her off trains.

Ann Spittle, who lives in Sidcup, said at a transport meeting for Bexley council on Wednesday that she books her train journeys two weeks in advance to make sure staff are available to help her on and off the train.

Despite ringing before to confirm her booking, she said rail workers have rarely received her request.

The mum said: “That always fails at London Bridge. I arrive at London Bridge, and invariably the message hasn’t gone from whoever accepted the phone call from Sidcup to get me off.

“Other members of the public have to get involved, people have tried just pushing me off the train with the step on it.”

Under the company’s new December timetable, commuters travelling on the Bexleyheath line will be forced to change at London Bridge if they wish to go to Waterloo and Charing Cross stations during off-peak hours.

“Trains on this line will now terminate at Cannon Street outside of peak time.

Rail bosses said that changes at London Bridge take 10 minutes on average.

Earlier in the meeting, Steve White, managing director of Southeastern Railway, said: “We’ve very, very successfully done a significant volume of assisted travel through London Bridge, which is a huge station with a huge capacity.”

But Ms Spittle said the size of the station makes transfers more difficult for those with limited mobility, and described not being able to get off the train without assistance “terrifying”.

She said: “[London Bridge] is massive for people who are working and have 10 minutes each time. But for people who have genuine difficulties, I don’t think that that’s being listened to.”

Regarding accessibility needs, Mr White said: “I want to be clear that people with accessibility needs will be able to make the journeys in the future that they make today. And we can customise some of our solutions to do that.”

The railway boss then said that he would consider telling staff to take commuters directly to St Thomas Hospital, now inaccessible due to the new timetable, from London Bridge if needed. Locals at the meeting laughed at this suggestion.

The mum later said that she and her partner often get told by staff to get off trains going to Sidcup because there are no staff available to help her off the train. Ms Spittle also said that the company doesn’t seem to have recorded the failures.

She said: “Whenever I have a big problem, because they usually are big problems on my journeys when I’m in a wheelchair. I make a point of writing an email and making sure it’s in writing.

“But when I then have another problem another time, you say you’re listening, but nothing changes. And secondly, nobody’s got a record of what I’ve said before, it’s like I’ve never said anything like this.”

Responding to Ms Spittle’s experiences, Mr White said that he wants the mum to be able to travel on Southeastern services “with confidence”.

He said: “We investigate each failure as if it was an accident, as if it’s something we need to learn from. We’re going to have a dedicated mobile assistance team in London Bridge, there isn’t one at the moment. But there will be from December, those people are being recruited now.”

Pictured top: Bexley Civic Offices (Picture: Google Street View)

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