Rail travellers welcome access for disabled

Morpeth Train Station.'Morpeth Railway Station
Morpeth Train Station.'Morpeth Railway Station
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DISABLED access will finally be provided at Morpeth Railway Station, but campaigners are concerned at the method used.

Network Rail is applying for planning permission and listed building consent to install two lifts at the station as currently access to the northbound platform is only by stairs.

The scheme, which will include alterations to the subway, is being funded through the Department for Transport’s Access for All initiative and should be operational within 12 months.

Celia Towers, of the Castle Morpeth Disability Association, said: “It will make a huge difference, not only for disabled people, but for young parents with prams.

“At the moment if you’re going to Newcastle that’s fine because you just go in and you’re on the platform, but if you’re going to Edinburgh you have to go down one flight of stairs, underneath the line and up another flight of stairs to get to the platform.

“There is a path up from Mafeking Park, but it is quite steep. People used to use a crossing a bit further north of the platform, but they stopped that because they said it was too dangerous.

“The situation now is disgraceful and we have protested for years so I’m very pleased about these plans.”

Morpeth parent Gavin Bisset, who has recently given up on using trains due to the difficulties of pram and pushchair access at the station, also welcomed the news.

“It is about time really,” he said.

“It is desperately needed. I take my 11-month-old daughter Phoebe on the train to the Metro Centre or Berwick so when we come back I have lots of bags and with a pram it is really difficult getting down the steps.

“I either have to rely on members of the public to help carry the stuff, or I have to leave my bags at the top to get the pram or buggy down and then go back to get them, but obviously I don’t like doing that because even though it just takes five minutes someone could pick them up.

“You also don’t want to be discourteous by getting in people’s way on the stairs.

“I have stopped using the station to a degree and now get the bus to Newcastle because it is so much easier, but if they put lifts in the station it will be much better and I will go back.”

However, the South East Northumberland Rail User Group (SENRUG), which has long campaigned for disabled access at the station, is concerned about the maintenance of the lifts and says a better option would be to provide a footpath from the northbound platform to Bankside and Station Cottages.

Chairman Dennis Fancett said: “We are very pleased that we are getting a scheme, but I don’t think lifts are the right solution.

“It would be very easy and probably cheaper to construct ramps from the platform to Station Cottages.

“My concern is that lifts can break down.

“If you get stuck in a lift and you were catching a train to Edinburgh for example, you would have wait four hours for the next one.

“Network Rail assures us that there is a one-hour response time, but even if they come and rescue you within half and hour with such an infrequent service it is a problem.

“I went to Orpington, which is a busy station on the edge of London, and the lifts there had been out of use for about two weeks so it may be a one-hour response, but it is not a one-hour fix.

“I suspect that there will be a couple of disasters and later on the county council will end up putting in the ramps at taxpayers’ expense.

“It is a mixed response because we are grateful for what we’re getting and we don’t want to protest too loudly for fear it will be withdrawn.”

A spokeswoman for Network Rail said the ramped access suggestion was considered, but was found to involve major works to signalling, which would be expensive.

She said: “The suggestion to provide ramped access at Morpeth Station was included in the Option Selection Report, which was provided to the Department for Transport for Network Rail.

“However, investigation of this option discovered that a ramped access, which would be located on the current freight sidings, would require significant alterations to signalling, track and overhead lines.

“To comply with Access for All guidelines in respect of maximum gradient to a ramped access, the routing of the pathway would be convoluted in comparison with the option to provide lifts.”

Morpeth Town Council’s Planning and Transport Committee welcomed the disabled access proposals, but said conditions should be attached to ensure the lifts are properly maintained and vandal-proof.

Coun Phil Taylor said: “It is an essential job.”

The application will be decided by Northumberland County Council.