Since July 20th there have been no trains in and out of Nottingham station on most routes. The station re-opened today. Fortunately, I haven’t needed to use the station until last Thursday when my husband and I travelled from Nottingham to Bournemouth to visit friends. We returned this evening.
Prior to the station closing in July, we were invited to attend an event at the station where staff were able to rehearse bus transfers with members of the public, including those of us with disabilities. One thing we were told would be happening is that disabled people who required level access or extra space would be taken on a bus, whereas other passengers, particularly those with luggage would be transported by coach.
We pre-booked assistance for our journey and arrived in plenty of time for our bus which would take us from Nottingham to Derby where we would catch the train. When we arrived, we were bundled onto a coach and the person assisting us suggested that we should sit in two seats with no space for the dog and barely enough leg room for my husband. We said that it wouldn’t be possible for us to get in that space, at which point our assistant asked us what we wanted him to do! Well wasn’t that obvious? We needed to get to Derby! It was because of kindness of other passengers who were prepared to move to help us that we got on that coach, not the bus we were promised. When we arrived at Derby there was no one to meet us. We had expected this would happen and had booked on an earlier bus than we needed in order that we didn’t miss our train.
The rest of our journey passed without event and the staff at Birmingham New Street station were as professional and excellent with their assistance as ever.
Today our return journey went well, including two changes at Southampton and Birmingham where there were people to meet us. However, as is the case more often than not, there was no one to meet us at Nottingham. The layout of the station hasn’t changed as such so we were able to find our way out, not without issues however. Whilst on the bridge between platforms we did encounter a member of staff but they didn’t stop and assist us. It would seem that work has been carried out on Platform six and there are now walls or boards where there used to be railings. This makes the environment seem very different as a blind person. It also meant that my guide dog did not recognise the exit and we missed it. The first we knew of this was when we started to walk off the end of the platform. It was fortunate that we have the relevant skills and spatial awareness to realise that a downward slope means that the platform is coming to an end. other blind people might not have been so lucky and ended up on the tracks.
I could write to East Midlands Trains who operate the station about these incidents but I don’t see any point. Other stations get it right but Nottingham have been consistently bad at meeting us for years now. We have written to them and met with them, they say they’ll look into it but nothing changes. At one of our meetings I walked with the manager onto the platform where they were trains standing with their engines running and invited him to close his eyes. He agreed that the level of noise without any visual input immediately made him feel very disorientated. I explained that this is the experience we have as blind people every time we visit a busy station.
I think that station staff seem to have this idea that blind passenger assists aren’t a priority and it doesn’t matter if they don’t meet us. I suppose I’m not helping our cause by finding my way off the station myself. If it wasn’t for the fact that Nottingham station is under construction and could change at any time, I’m not sure I’d bother booking assistance any more. I certainly won’t once the station is fully re-furbished and I can learn it with my dog.
I have reached an impasse. I don’t see any way forward with this issue of staff at Nottingham. I would offer my help further but I don’t believe it would be a valuable use of my time as East Midlands Trains are clearly not listening.