Chair of the Scottish Accessible Transport Alliance Arthur Cowie has resigned from his position in protest of what he calls ScotRail’s “highly inappropriate” overhauling of the company’s rolling stock.
ScotRail currently operates 45 of the Class 156 “Super Sprinters,” which were built between 1987 and 1989. In 2016, ScotRail began outfitting the then almost 30-year-old trains with what is known as a PRM TSI NIP refit, which would see the trains receive accessible toilets and a full interior refit, which includes slimmer seating to increase aisle space. ScotRail aims to have completed the refit by this year.
But Cowie has called the changes “the straw that finally broke the camel’s back,” saying that these changes have in fact made it more difficult for passengers who use wheelchairs to manoeuvre in the train’s carriages, telling Scotland on Sunday that ScotRail has “taken a very poor accessibility solution and made it even worse”.
The Class 156 trains are currently operated on one of ScotRail’s most popular tourist routes, the West Highland Way, as well as on their busiest commuter route on the Glasgow to Edinburgh line. This means that passengers may spend up to five-and-a-half hours on the service, and commuters may face significant difficulties using the trains at peak times.
Despite ScotRail’s claims that the refit would “improve the on-train experience,” Cowie notes a number of changes has made it more difficult to use the services. He notes that the reduction in size of buttons to open doors, limited manoeuvering space, and uncomfortable seating has in fact made transport more difficult.
Cowie said of his decision: “Recent actions by ScotRail and Transport Scotland have made me realise I have been wasting my time over the last 40 years in trying to achieve accessible travel, and have been played for a fool by the transport authorities over this period.”
Acting chair of SATA Terry Barlow fully agrees with Cowie’s comments regarding the refit.
A ScotRail spokesperson told the Scotsman: “These trains are fully compliant with accessibility legislation, are more suited to scenic routes with the seats aligned to windows, and have increased toilet and luggage space.”
ScotRail told the newspaper that “accessibility was one of the main driving factors for the refurbishment of the fleet, and improving accessibility was at the forefront of the design specifications”.
Speaking also to the newspaper, a spokesperson for Transport Scotland said: “Transport accessibility is a key priority and we take stakeholder feedback into account when making improvements while also remaining compliant with the relevant legislation and standards. This fleet of trains has been refurbished to a high specification and will bring benefits to a wide range of users.”Get your copy of UNITE Magazine