If you’ve read my post on booking special assistance for flights you’ll know how complex the process can be, and the planning that needs to go into it. It’s vastly different between the airlines, and even more different between countries! Fortunately, UK rail travel is a lot easier to understand; and with my top tips, you’ll be on your way in no time!
A quick overview
Passenger assistance on the UK rail network is booked using a centralised system called Passenger Assist. This process has several benefits, such as:
- You’ll receive a confirmation email detailing your entire journey and what assistance has been booked throughout it;
- Your confirmation email should note exactly where to meet the assistance provider, and at what time (if it doesn’t, you should feel free to chase this)
- All stations involved in your journey and who are providing assistance should receive advance notification of your journey; this makes it possible for them to tell you of a change to your journey or any issues in providing your assistance so that these can be resolved in advance.
Booking passenger assistance
Although your assistance booking is held in the Passenger Assist system, it is booked through individual Train Operating Companies (TOCs). Unhelpfully, each TOC has a habit of branding their Passenger Assist service differently – so an easy way to find out the right people to speak to is to contact National Rail, who will get you through to the team. You can call National Rail on 0800 0223720; or you can book assistance using an online form.
Top Tip: Unfortunately, you’re currently encouraged to book your assistance in advance but you should know that staff are expected to make all reasonable efforts to accomodate you if you don’t have a booked Passenger Assist reservation, or your plans change. It’s inevitable that sometimes, we can’t book assistance sometimes over 48 hours in advance – don’t feel bad about this! TOCs are currently being required to make changes to reduce the booking period, with an aim of assistance only needing to be booked 2 hours in advance. Not perfect, but a big improvement compared to the current service.
Some journeys might cover more than one TOC, but due to the Passenger Assist service spanning the companies, you only need to make one booking. For example, when I was at University, I’d often get the train home and my journey spanned several companies:
- Bath Spa station to Bristol Temple Meads (Great Western Railway service and stations);
- Bristol Temple Meads to Birmingham New Street (CrossCountry service, one Great Western Railway station, and one Network Rail station);
- Birmingham New Street to Leicester (CrossCountry service, one Network Rail station, and one East Midlands Trains station);
- Leicester to Loughborough (East Midlands Trains service and station).
For a journey like this, I was glad I didn’t have to book assistance separately for each section of my journey, with each provider! I’d simply choose one that was involved in my journey – for example, Great Western Railway – and they were able to book it all. They can also reserve the wheelchair accessible space if you’ve not yet done so.
Top Tip: Look into whether you might be eligible for a Disabled Persons Railcard so you can get 1/3 off rail travel for you and a friend; they’re just £20 for 1 year or £54 for 3 years! Other discounts, of up to 50%, are available too – check out the National Rail website for up to date qualifying criteria.
What you can expect
If you have prebooked your assistance, there should be suitably qualified staff ready for your arrival when you present at the station at the agreed time. When booking the assistance you’ll have likely declared your assistance requirements and the staff should deliver this assistance to you. At the right time, the team should assist you on your train in the way you’ve agreed with them, and another colleague should be waiting at your arrival station to assist you as well.
TOCs are required to publish an Accessible Travel Policy and customer leaflets called “Making Rail Accessible: Helping Older and Disabled Passengers”. You should be able to find these documents online. These detail exactly what you can expect, and are really important to refer to particularly if you experience any difficulties during your journey. If you don’t receive a good service, make sure to report this to the TOC. Service improvements do come as a result of this, and some TOCs will offer partial refunds on your ticket as a result of these failures.