There are some exciting developments taking place in 2019 that will make it easier for disabled people to travel by train. Able Magazine spoke with Head of Customer Strategy at the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) Crispin Humm, to find out more.

Is it time for disabled people that might have used rail assistance before to revisit it, to see how it’s improved?

We’ve run the assistance service for many years. In general, it’s really well received. If you ask the Office of Rail and Road, I think the stats say that 85% of our customers say the service is either very good, good or satisfactory. For me, and for many people that’s not good enough: one in 10 fail. So although we have been running a service that is well received, we’re still investing in doing more and doing it better.

We’re rolling out a new service, progressively, across the network. This is currently trialling live on the network; it’s already being received really well.

We’ve designed it with customers. So from March the first thing customers will notice is that booking of the services will be so much slicker. We know it’s not been good. Calls to the contact centre have taken up to 40 minutes. That’s not good from a customer or a contact agent’s perspective. So first things first, we’re targeting that. Customers will be able to ring up and set up an account, so they won’t have to keep repeating the information (about their needs) over and over again.

We’re changing the back-end contact centre system because they’ve had to go through three or four screens and that’s one of the reasons why it has taken up to 40 minutes. We’ve streamlined that so customers will notice, from March that that booking journey, through the contact centre, will be so much faster.

From April through late spring and into summer we’re rolling it out, across the stations. It’s important. The back-end system, is the reason why one in 10 fail, you get a once-a-day download to each station. What that means is that, for whatever reason, the station staff only find out about any changes because someone spots it. Mostly it works but you’re reliant upon manual intervention when people are super busy. From when we start rolling that capability out across the network, starting with the big stations, it won’t be a once a day download, it’ll be live, so any changes will be sent directly to station staff. So we are deliberately targeting those pain points.

In October, we’ll open up the final bit; a new channel for customers to book through.

This is going to be managed through an app…

This is a big change for the industry. The app is really just the sort of shop window if you like, the bits that are going to make a real difference, that will improve the performance, drive confidence, is all the back-end business change, which is why we’re targeting that. The last thing that we’ll roll out, nationally, will be the new channel.

Importantly, we’re not turning off any of the other channels, so the contact centre will stay open. We know there’s a portion of our customers that, for whatever reason, digital doesn’t work and that’s fine. We’re improving the web-based form so it’s a lot faster as well.

The app assistance is just one part of a broader portfolio to make the railway more accessible for everybody.

How are you going to go about making the railway more accessible generally?

We know that the railway is not entirely accessible for everybody. So we have invested an awful lot of money making more stations step-free in the last few years. We’ve got another 110 stations on top of the existing 450 that we’ve made step-free. We know booking assistance is going to change for a whole number of reasons, for instance, 12 months ago there were about 20 different numbers that customers could use for bookings. It was ridiculous. We’ve now got one. We’ve introduced a text service so customers who are hearing impaired can book assistance via text: that was a bit of a no-brainer.

Some customers worry about getting on and off trains. We call it the platform train interface. There’s a gap; you’ll see ramps being deployed. One of the challenges we have is that because the gaps are Take the Train 35 different (depending on train stock) you need different sorts of ramps, so very often when you see that go wrong it’s because the wrong ramp is there and that’s embarrassing for the customer, and from a railway perspective. You end up having to delay a train and it’s just awful. We partnered with a start-up to design a universal ramp that is flexible and lightweight. We’re again addressing key pain points, the real bits that will make a difference.

During the train journey itself, you can be fined for sitting in a first class seat if you haven’t got a first class ticket but you won’t be fined for sitting in a priority seat for disabled people. Does that reflect the status of disabled people?

Railway bylaws legislation is the mechanism we use to claim back the fare for a service that’s being used but that hasn’t been paid for. So if, for example, I decide to sit in a first-class seat that I haven’t paid for, I’m still using that service, so it’s not a fine.

It’s more of a societal question, it’s about doing the right thing. I got on the train this morning, it was super busy and a pregnant lady got on board. What was heartening was that people were scrambling to offer her their seat. That’s what it should be like but I know that doesn’t often happen which is disappointing.

I’ve seen some great behaviour from onboard staff who encourage people to give up their seat face-to-face which is really challenging for somebody. But they do it, or it’s over the intercom.

But the onus is often on the disabled person. That can be even more difficult if you have say, an invisible disability…

I completely recognise that. My son’s autistic, he’s five, and he loves trains which is wonderful but at the same time things can happen around him that are totally out of my control, it’s similar but not the same as someone sitting in the seat, and, yeah, I completely get it, it’s awful because I have to try to manage that.

Some of the rail companies are really setting a good example here, by introducing very specific training and knowledge development around hidden disabilities. We know it’s an area that, as an industry, we’ve got to improve on. From RDG’s perspective, we want to learn what that best practice is to then roll it out nationally. What we can do is what’s in our control: education, awareness and encouraging the right behaviour.


Customers can book rail assistance using the national freephone number: 0800 022 3720, which will forward them to the train company they need. By textphone, customers can use the free textphone forwarding service on: 60083, which will send them the number they need. Customers can also book online at: If customers want to book by email or fax, they can contact their train company directly.

Disabled Persons Railcard

With a Disabled Persons Railcard you can get 1/3 off rail fares to travel across Britain.

If you’re travelling with another adult they will also get 1/3 off their rail fare. There are no time restrictions on the Disabled Persons Railcard, so you can use it at any time of the day.