What a week, after starting it with the hottest temperatures on record, I had the unenviable task of heading north for work. Whilst my colleagues all flew, I opted to catch the train because, although slower, having the choice between travelling by train or air with a visual impairment, I always opt to stay as close to sea level as possible. This is for a few reasons, but the main one is that it is far easier to negotiate a busy, unfamiliar train station with passenger assistance than it is to contemplate negotiating Gatwick airport alone. Plus, as I will already be on the train for the first leg anyway it just makes sense to remain for the whole trip.
Although I wasn’t due to leave home until 10.30, I decided to leave earlier because of all the disruption the hot weather had caused on the previous day, so I set off about 9.45 with a lift to the station. Arriving at Reading, a train was waiting for me and I left an hour earlier than expected and it was likely I’d get the earlier train from Euston. This meant that I’d be at the hotel just after the rest of the group had taken off.
Travel time so far: 35 minutes
ETA at hotel: 16.31 (1 hour 29 minutes before flight (BF))
Into Paddington and down to the tube, everything was going well, it was a bit tight, but I would be into Euston in time for the earlier train (just). Getting to the assistance desk with minutes to spare, I hightailed it down the platform with a very flustered mobility assistant. As we neared the train, it transpired that this wasn’t going to be the train for me as people were queuing out of the door to get on board. No matter, I had a seat booked on the 12.30 so we agreed to return to the assistance waiting area and sit in air conditioned comfort for an hour. No matter, I’d still be there about the same time as everyone else.
Travel time: 1 hour 45 minutes
ETA: 17.31 (29 minutes BF)
Forty-five minutes later and my name was called to get ready to board. The assistant explained the train would be slightly late arriving so there would be a quick turnaround which suited me perfectly. So, at 12.30 I was comfortably installed in my seat, notebook at the ready and looking forward to getting back on the move. A few minutes later general boarding began, a trickle of people at first before the dam burst and the carriage flooded with travellers vying for a seat. After a couple of minor scuffles, everyone was set and the train set off, 45 minutes late.
Travel time: 3 hours 30 minutes
ETA: 18.16 (16 minutes after flight (AF))
Although I’d be getting in about 16 minutes after the rest of the group there was just a short 10 minute walk from Glasgow Central to the hotel. We travelled along making good time all the way up through the midlands until we got to the first stops at Warrington Bank Quay and Wigan before heading on up to the next stop at Preston. Here, we sat on the platform for quite some time with 5 minutes growing into 10 and then 15. After what was probably half an hour, the driver announced there was no train manager available and the service would not be going any further but, not to worry, the train on the adjacent platform was also heading to Glasgow so to hop on that one instead.
Travel time: 7 hours
ETA: 19.06 (1 hour 6 minutes AF)
No problem, we weren’t meeting for dinner until 19.30 anyway. On leaving the train, the passenger sitting next to me (an American on his first trip to the country) helped me to find the assistance desk before heading off to find a corner of the train to squeeze into himself. Meanwhile, the assistance led me to the rear of the train as it would likely be easier to board here but instead there was a fellow traveller already sat in the doorway. In the next doorway forward, there was an elderly gent leaning heavily against his cane and in the next one was a family of four with full checked baggage heading back from holiday. At each door a different and more sombre scene awaited us along with the dawning realisation that there was no way I would be getting on board. Of course, it was bloody obvious that wouldn’t happen, Avanti West Coast were still using Pendolino trains, not TARDIS’s so when an 11 car train is standing room only and another 11 car train is also standing room only, some people will have to accept that they simply will have to wait. No matter, the 16.41 would be along soon… Except, like with every other service on the West Coast Mainline that day, it was delayed – 76 minutes delayed. Meaning I was in for an almost hour and a half wait before I would get back on the move.
Travel time: 7 hours
ETA: 20.52 (2 hours 52 minutes AF)
With plans for dinner out the window, I sat down in a stuffy Upper Crust (has anyone ever seen one anywhere apart from in a train station?) with a cup of tea and continued my narrative on disability as a social construct – coming soon to a blog near you! The assistant who tried so desperately to get me on the previous train promised someone would be along to ensure I didn’t miss the next one and, as I looked down the ever lengthening list of cancellations on my phone, panic began to take hold that I would be stranded in Preston overnight.
The clock ticked painfully slowly and as the allotted time approached no one appeared, but that was fine because with each passing minute the delay continued to grow until it was now showing 86 minutes late. Finally, with the tension mounting and the atmosphere in the café getting more and more claustrophobic I had the quandary between remaining where I was just in case the assistant showed up or stepping outside for some much-needed fresh air. Eventually, enough was enough so I opted for fresh air but stay near the door in the hope that I’d be spotted; and so, with 5 minutes to spare the assistant arrived ready to help me on board.
Travel time: 9 hours 20 minutes
ETA: 21.05 (3 hours 5 minutes AF)
The final part of the journey crept along painfully slowly and at each station the ETA continued to climb and we eventually arrived into Glasgow at 21.04, almost 4 hours later than planned. After a short detour, I got to the hotel at around 21.30, just about 12 hours after setting off, drained and ready for a quick bite to eat and bed.
And so, dear reader, I’m sure you will agree that this was a nightmare of a journey for anyone but, could you imagine doing it with limited sight? Imagine having to get off a train at a strange station, working out alone from the display screens which train to get on next and then navigate a busy station full of people all trying to do the same as you. This is enough to get anybody’s heart racing, but what if you can’t see those screens, find the ramp to the subway and can’t find anybody to help? As disabled people, we are so often reliant on the support of others to go about our daily lives that when things go wrong as they did last week, the added fear that we may be stranded with no clue where to go next makes you want to curl up in a ball and never leave the house again. Thankfully, I made it to my destination and home again unscathed but it could have turned out so differently.
I will leave you now with this final request, if you are ever in a situation where anyone, visibly disabled or not, and they appear to be lost or unsure – just ask if you can help. This may be because they’re waiting to cross the road, it could be trying to find the reception desk at a hotel or it could be at a ran packed Preston railway station on the day after the hottest day on record. They may say “no thank you”, but that’s ok, the important thing is that we’re all looking out for our fellow human beings.