Bringing joy to Christmas journeys

Are you planning a festive rail journey but worry that getting on and off trains could cause you difficulty?  Age Scotland volunteer Pat Craig thinks the Passenger Assist service could be your answer.

Since my first visit to London, I’ve always loved ‘Mind the Gap,’ shouted at each Tube stop. Today my creaky knees give ‘MTG’ quite a different significance as I try to get on and off trains. Recently I almost cancelled a trip from Edinburgh to Durham as I remembered the gap which I had found challenging even as a student. Would it be impossible now?

Booking my journey, I told the salesperson who immediately allayed my concerns by explaining the Passenger Assist service, offering to book it for me there and then. It was free, and would give me confidence to travel. I was sceptical until sweeping into Durham I noticed a smart woman standing right at the door I was getting out of. Immediately introducing herself as my Assist, she helped me off the train.

Checking when I planned to return she showed me my return departure point, assuring me someone would be there to help and gently suggested that it would be easier for everyone if she arranged for a wheelchair. Every train has a portable ramp to get wheelchairs on and off. All stations have or can get a wheelchair. For unmanned stations, the train crew will ensure a wheelchair is on board and will assist you. If you have your own they will provide the same service.

Some passengers may of course only need a helping hand. For this VIP service all you do is request Passenger Assist at least 4 hours before travelling to guarantee assistance. If you can’t meet the time deadline there is no guarantee but they will try. Helpfully all the Train Operators Assist services are interlinked so that even if your journey involves different Operators you only have to make one booking.

So far I’ve used 5 different operators and seen very little difference in the service apart from the not unexpected rivalry between Glasgow and Edinburgh, who always ask me who was best! Passenger Assist makes travelling easy. Occasionally they get it wrong but have a complaints procedure for this and will sometimes issue a ticket voucher as compensation.

Reasons for requesting assistance are as varied as the passengers. My last trip included people going on holiday, a couple travelling to a specialist cancer centre in Newcastle who wanted a stress free journey, grandparents visiting family, a hearing impaired teenager with learning difficulties and two visually impaired people, one with a guide dog. Although some trains have dedicated disabled seats there’s no need to use these or for anyone to know you need assistance. Each train operator has written policies outlining their Assist Services. These also specify their Inclusion policies.