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Friday 13 December 2019

Ross snubs rail access launch as wheelchair users stranded on Dart

Disability activist Sean O’Kelly from Dalkey, Co Dublin, who found himself stranded on the Dart yesterday when no ramp was available at Connolly Station. Picture: Paul Sharp
Disability activist Sean O’Kelly from Dalkey, Co Dublin, who found himself stranded on the Dart yesterday when no ramp was available at Connolly Station. Picture: Paul Sharp
Kirsty Blake Knox

Kirsty Blake Knox

It wasn’t the most promising of starts. Two wheelchair users found themselves stranded on trains in Connelly Station yesterday.

They were on their way to the launch of the Dart’s new Accessibility Pilot Programme, intended to promote Irish Rail’s improved travel services for those living with disability.

For two of the invited guests to find themselves stuck in carriages with no mobility ramps in sight was a considerable howler.

“When someone didn’t come to the platform I laughed,” Disability Activist Sean O’Kelly (25) from Dalkey said.

“To be coming to a launch for accessibility and for that to happen? I just burst out laughing.”

O’Kelly had informed staff at his local Dart station he was attending the launch but they failed to phone ahead and notify Connelly of his arrival.

As a result, the person he was travelling with had to sprint to the front of the train and inform the driver O’Kelly needed assistance disembarking.

Meanwhile, Liam Daly (20) from the Navan Road said a member of Irish Rail in charge of the mobility ramp was late when he arrived at the station.

Concerned he might miss the launch he asked his friend to help him off the train.

When the member of Irish Rail saw Daly on the platform, he spoke to him in a hostile fashion before “storming off”.

Barry Kenny, Corporate Communications Manager of Irish Rail, apologised for O’Kelly and Daly’s experiences.

“It is very unfortunate that someone experienced that today. I’d like to apologise to the individuals involved.”

He added; “We will take that feedback because users have to have confidence in the system or else it won’t work.”

The new system will run for the next six months and will see a reduction in the advised notice period for those requiring assistance when travelling on the DART from 24 hours to four hours.

Outside the station, a number of wheelchair users with placards were protesting.

They claimed Irish Rail had failed to listen to the demands of the community who want a ‘no notice’ policy to ensure equality.

As if to add insult to injury, Minister for Transport Shane Ross hadn’t shown up.

According to his spokesperson he was busy “attending meetings”.

It’s worth noting Minister Ross had taken the time out of his hectic schedule last Friday to participate in a mimed gun fight with a Darth Vader impersonator, at the opening of the Holiday World Show in Dublin’s RDS.

“I was definitely disappointed he wasn’t here,” wheelchair user Brendan Sinclair said.

“It was poor form on his part. I really feel he should have made an appearance …It would have showed he was taking the matter seriously.”

The pilot system will see customer service officers operate out of 13 hub stations in Dublin and Wicklow.

There are 31 stations in total and officers can be deployed to nearby stations to operate ramps upon request.

This will cause complications if multiple commuters with disabilities require assistance at the same time, in different stations.

This may explain why the Irish Wheelchair Association, Central Remedial Clinic and the Disability Federation of Ireland, believe the pilot system will result in “a chaotic, unsatisfactory and unreliable service for commuters with disabilities”.

In addition, individuals who suffer from speech impediments may find phoning the station stressful.

Yesterday, Barry Kenny said Irish Rail are developing an app to work in conjunction with the dedicated phone line.

He also said Irish Rail have applied for funding for a 300 strong new fleet that would come equipped with automatic ramps.

While the majority of people attending the launch said it was a move in the right direction, it did little to give them a sense of empowerment, equality, or hope.

“It is heart-breaking the state this country is in, in terms in public transport,” Sean O’Kelly said.

“I don’t want the next generation or future generations to live in the Ireland I am living in now… I feel like a second class citizen.”

Irish Independent

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