Saturday 25 January 2020

'The kids were all over the place screaming': Children’s special needs group in corridors for three-hour train journey

Group had organised booking seats three months ago for trip to Dublin Zoo from Mayo

Heuston Station, inset some of the young passengers travelling back, inset far right, the buggies and wheelchairs piled up on the train
Heuston Station, inset some of the young passengers travelling back, inset far right, the buggies and wheelchairs piled up on the train
Hesuton Station, inset the wheelchairs crammed into the corridors of the train to Mayo
The families at Dublin Zoo before their trip back

Tomás Heneghan

A children’s special needs group has said it was left crammed into the corridors of train on Monday, despite organising their seats three months in advance.

A group of 48 people, including 16 children with special needs and four wheelchair users from ÁIRC Mayo– Supporting Children with Disabilities, made the nightmare journey on Monday to visit Dublin Zoo.

The wheelchairs crammed into the corridors of the train
The wheelchairs crammed into the corridors of the train

Speaking to, chairperson of ÁIRC, Kathryn Connor said she would never want to take the group on a train here again after their experience this week.

She explained: “It was just so scattered. It was just so dreadful. I was trying to make sure everyone was happy and obviously they weren’t. All the kids all over the place, screaming. They were very upset.”

Ms Connor said she had first contacted Irish Rail in late May to organise the trip for the group and had been in contact with the company as late as Friday to ensure everything would run to plan.

However, for their three hour return journey from Heuston Station in Dublin to Castlebar in Mayo, the group were forced to split up, store wheelchairs and prams against exist doors and stand in the corridors of the train.

Ms Connor explained that the group had arrived at Heuston station an hour before their train was due to leave at 6:15pm but had to wait until 5:55pm until the platform was announced and the gate opened.

“We legged it down to carriage C. All packed. I said ‘Just wait there at the door’ and I ran in to see if our seats were there. All taken. No names up on the board or anything like that. I talked to the girl with catering and she said to go down to customer service.

The wheelchairs crammed into the the corridors of the train
The wheelchairs crammed into the the corridors of the train

“So I legged it down to customer service and there was a man there and I said ‘Sorry, we’ve a group of special needs children with wheelchairs. There’s no ramp down there to let us in and our seats are all taken’ and he turned around and said ‘Well my supervisor’s gone. I’m here by myself and I can’t help you.’

“I said ‘Well we need help’. He said ‘You should have been there 20 minutes beforehand’. I said ‘We were there an hour beforehand, waiting because I knew this would happen’. He got on the phone and kept going out the back and coming back in and this was going on till 6:10pm.

Sarah Jennings (5) and Martha Jennings (3)
Sarah Jennings (5) and Martha Jennings (3)

“So I ran it back up – I didn’t want the train going on me. All the kids in the wheelchairs were cramped into the hall where the toilets are. My little man doesn’t like small spaces and he roaring crying, and that hurt me mentally, seeing him upset.

“There were children with really high sensory needs, banging their heads and shaking their heads. Mums were getting stressed.

“I walked down the aisle to see if our names popped up again and they didn’t. I went down to carriage B to see if they had changed our carriage. No, nothing, no names up at all. So we had to pile all our wheelchairs up in to the door of the carriage – the escape door.”

Ms Connor said there were some people on the train who gave up their seats for some of the group but that this also meant the group being split up.

She said: “A lovely couple gave us a few seats but all separated. There was one parent with a child with a wheelchair and had to sit in two different seats.

“There were four dads holding the wheelchairs up along the door so they wouldn’t fall over with people passing. We had two little girls with autism sitting on the table all the way down.

“Our names did not come up until after Tullamore and then came off again after another five minutes. People were still siting in our seats, even when the names came up, and still didn’t give anyone seats.

“Our husbands didn’t get to sit down beside us until, I think, Claremorris, which was nearly home.”

She added: “One family had three children with special needs and they were separated from their dad and the kids were crying.

“There were four kids from Castlebar and they let us sit. My mum, who is 72 years of age, was with us as well and she was expected to stand up. I couldn’t even bring my son to the toilet because there were people all the way down.”

Ms Connor explained this was not the first issue the group had encountered with the toilets on the train over the day.

On their journey to Dublin on Monday morning, Ms Connor said she had to change her 8-year-old son who has cerebral palsy in toilets on the train. However, she had to wait until they reached Heuston Station, due to the condition of the train’s toilets.

She explained: “We went in and there was vomit all over the sink and all over the floor and cans of Bulmers, so I had to wait until I got to Hueston, Dublin to change his nappy.”

She said: “It was just such a lovely day. We fundraised for this for a year and a half. We’re only a small charity, with seven parents that our volunteers and we all have children with special needs. We have saved and fundraised for this so parents could have one day out.

“There were two boys there in wheelchairs who had never been on a train.”

There was also problems with ramps for the wheelchairs at both Heuston Station and Castlebar, according to Ms Connolly.

“We were already off the train before the ramp came for the wheelchairs. It took a while to get off the train.

“This is the first time we’ve done this. Usually we would go to Westport House every year or Adventure West for them and it was such a big deal and I organised it all myself and I was so proud and everything was going smoothly. No, I don’t think I could ever do that again.

“Children with sensory issues love the train. They love the movement of it. They get a thrill out of it. Even my own [son] sat for the whole three hours going up because he was just so fascinated and amazed by it. You want to see that, something different for them.

“I will never do it again. Just too tough to see them [upset].”

She added: “We were guaranteed we were going to be looked after and to say we were treated like second class citizens is unbelievable. Nobody to help us at all when we were guaranteed help. Very, very upset.”

A spokesman for Irish Rail said the company was “very sorry for any difficulties” ÁIRC encountered while travelling with the rail service on Monday and was endeavouring to contact the group.

He explained: “Seats had been reserved for the entire group in Carriage C, and this booking was displayed above seats.

“However, the group appear to have boarded Carriage D directly without first calling to the Information Desk.

“We would have ensured that the group received any assistance required and were seated together, as occurred on their journey from Westport to Dublin.”

He added: “We appreciate this resulted in a journey which was uncomfortable and upsetting, and regret any misunderstanding which occurred.

“We hope to discuss this in detail with the group, address any concerns they have, and hope to welcome them again on our services in the future.”

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