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Saturday 16 December 2017

'Driven to tears': Wheelchair user Saoirse recalls 'nightmare' DART experience

Saoirse Smith (inset)
Saoirse Smith (inset)

Claire Fox

A woman with cerebral palsy was "driven to tears" when she was forced to wait on the DART for 15 minutes for Irish Rail employees to help her exit the train.

Saoirse Smith told RTE's Liveline of the "embarrassment" she felt when there was nobody there to put the ramp down to allow her to leave the tram, even though she had rang Connolly Sation ahead to make sure that there would be someone there. 

"I was frustrated and angry. A group of lovely kids held the door for me so it wouldn't close," she said.

Ms Smith, who is her mid 20s,op explained how she felt like a "burden" keeping the rest of the DART passengers waiting in Connolly.

"I felt bad keeping everyone waiting because I know people just want to get home or get to where they're going. I didn't want someone to lift me out either because what if they fell or got hurt?" she asked.

On the same journey from Blackrock to Clontarf, Saoirse recalled how there had also been nobody at Blackrock station to assist her in getting on the train. 

"I had to get a colleague from work to ask the driver to help me on," Ms Smith, wo works in Ipsos Blackrock and commutes there every evening from her home in Clontarf.

"Clontarf is unmanned most of the time so that means I can't use it," she said,  adding she fears that in the future the entire system will be automated and that nobody will be there to assist her. 

"I read an article that there could be self-driving trains in the pipeline. Where would we be left then?"

Ms Smith sometimes opts to get the bus which she said is also not very accessible and drivers can be unhelpful if the ramp isn't working.

"Most are helpful but some don't do anything. On one occasion the driver didn't even attempt to get the ramp out and left me in the rain. The bus also takes 40 minutes as I've to get two of them and it can be full or there's sometimes no room," she told RTE Radio One.

Irish Rail issued a statement on the show apologising to Ms Smith for "not having a positive experience" on the DART and said that they are currently "investigating" the incident. 

Ms Smith told presenter Damien O' Reilly that she feels like a "second class citizen" in her own city and that wheelchair access in Dublin city centre is a "nightmare".

"Town is a nightmare with all the roadworks and trying to find somewhere to eat is hard. You can just forget about going through Temple Bar because of the cobbles and the paths are always full. It's sometimes really hard to get wheelchair taxis at times too." 

She said the best solution for wheelchair users would be to modernise the DART.

"In this day in age it's not acceptable to have unmanned trains," she said. "They either need more people working at the stations or to upgrade the whole system so we don't need help with the ramp,"

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