As one of Great Britain’s most successful Paralympians, winning 11 gold medals across four Games, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson knows what it takes to triumph over adversity. Yet the theoretically simple matter of booking an assisted-travel ticket on First Great Western’s website nearly defeated the athlete-turned-politician and left her desperately frustrated.
Baroness Grey-Thompson’s annoyance was compounded when she was told there would be no wheelchair-accessible toilets on her two-hour first-class journey.
The cross-bench peer said the problems she faced while travelling by rail highlighted wider issues for the disabled, adding that she had experienced far worse.
Baroness Grey-Thompson told The Independent: “With this journey they did check that there would be people at the station at the time of night I was arriving, which hasn’t always happened before. At least I was told there was no accessible toilet – previously I haven’t been.
“I have got on the East Coast service from London to Darlington and found that there is no toilet and the first stop is York! I tend to monitor my fluid intake to try to ensure that I don’t need to use the facilities. I am so used to doing this that I am quite good at it.”
Disabled passengers are advised by the train companies to book 24 hours in advance to ensure staff assistance is available. First Great Western also wanted to know the exact time she would arrive at the station, and how she would be getting there.
The peer, who spent almost an hour booking the ticket, in a “completely pointless use of my time”, said a further problem was that her busy schedule meant she did not always know her travel times a day in advance. “Sometimes I can do it, but sometimes I can’t,” she said.
A spokesman for First Great Western, part of FirstGroup, told The Independent that if there were no wheelchair-accessible toilets on board, passengers could request that the train driver stop at a station with appropriate toilets. The train would then wait for the passenger to return before it continued.
Baroness Grey-Thompson said: “I have never heard of this before. I was told that there was no accessible toilet and I was asked if this was OK. Not much to say apart from yes, because that is the train I wanted to travel on.”
First Great Western said in a statement: “Two thirds of our fleet operate with a wheelchair-accessible toilet, including all of our long-distance services We have a programme of works to extend that provision further. Our fleet of 165 units are due to be upgraded from October this year.