Richmond – Waterloo – Twickenham – Richmond – Clapham – Richmond
Today’s journey was very convoluted and confusing, but for a good reason.
Last month I attended a Richmond Mobility Forum and met Richard from SouthWest Trains, a manager with responsibility for accessibility on the network. We’d had a productive discussion but when he suggested coming on a trip with me I thought this could prove really enlightening. Today was that trip.
We met under the clock at Waterloo at 13.30. The first smart thing he did was take his name badge off, and the odyssey began. No sniggering at the back there, carnations were not involved.
The first stop was going to be Twickenham, so R’s first thought was to catch the 13.34 until I pointed out that this didn’t give time to locate assistance and deploy the ramp. The next train was a stopping service, so I selected the express which was on the board but without a platform. I was being slightly disingenuous as this train always leaves from platform 19, a platform which has no assistance booth. After a brief explanation I headed off to the high numbered platform with R in tow and could see my train waiting though not yet announced.
As we approached the platform I explained the lack of assistance and that I’d need to go and find some from somewhere else. Fortunately I quickly found a willing volunteer, who was talking to the train crew. When I told them where I was going there followed a very public discussion about the reliability, or otherwise, of the wheelchair lift at Twickenham. This disturbed R as he’d been assured by the station manager, in response to my earlier character assassination of this useless piece of kit, that it was highly reliable.
Boarding the train was largely uneventful except for a restriction on where I could sit based on how far the ramp needed to be carried. To be fair I do have some sympathy, they are not light pieces of equipment. Arriving at Twickenham in a light drizzle I got to demonstrate the lightening speed and convenience (or otherwise) of the wheelchair lift at Twickenham.
I’ve always found the staff at Twickenham to be really helpful and customer focussed. They take any incident or service failure as a personal affront and make it their mission to rectify the problem. They’ve also been willing in the past to be a little more open and frank than perhaps they should with regular customers like me. Today proved no different. I just hope they haven’t said anything in front of R that gets them into trouble.
Having reached the exit I then had a dilemma. I needed to turn around and get back on a train, but this is going to look really suspicious. In the end I settled for sitting in the drizzle for five minutes before turning around and heading back, claiming I’d forgotten something. Rather than use the lift I instead went round to the level back entrance which was blocked with cars as though I’d arranged it. (Just to be clear, I hadn’t.)
The construction guy moved the cars and the station staff seemed to accept my stupidity returning back so quickly. I didn’t realise they knew me so well to know my level of stupidity. we had only a short wait for the next train, which was fortunate because the drizzle was falling with the urgency of water that needed to be somewhere. Fortuitously the short train that arrived meant that it stopped at the restricted width platform where building work has been ongoing for months. This was perfect, as it demonstrated my expert driving skills whilst making it clear that anyone with a scooter, a bigger chair, or less talent wouldn’t have been able to board the train.
We got back to, and off, at Richmond without incident, except for having to move a passenger from the wheelchair space. Being at Richmond gave me a chance to talk about the problems of being met on Underground and Overground services by SouthWest Trains staff. From what was said, it’s obvious I’m not the only one who’s had this problem. We also talked about signage on the loos when they’re closed, which has been discussed at Richmond Mobility Forum.
Before heading off to Strawberry Hill I took R to the waiting room on Platform 1. This has always had a highly effective automatic door opener until some numpty built a train dispatch screen in front of it. To be fair the door opener is still effective, it’s just anybody with a disability can no longer find it or reach it. Despite initially being sceptical, R very quickly came around to share my opinion. I expect the opener to be re-sited quite quickly.
The final leg of the odyssey was a whistle-stop tour of stations of the Kingston loop to show where the ramps moved from and to (there’s no modest way to say this) after my TV appearance, with an eye towards any changes that would be needed for the new longer trains.
We finally finished at Clapham Junction. The only thing I hadn’t been able to show during the trip was what happens when communication fails and there is no-one to meet you. I was really pleased therefore when we pulled into Clapham and they didn’t let me down. Entirely to type and expectation there was no-one to meet me, which allowed me to tick the last thing off my list.
It’s fair to say that both R and I learned some useful things today. I hope it’s the first meeting of many, and it’s always useful to have connections on the inside. As we parted I noticed R head back down to the platform to explore the reasons behind our not being met.