Travelling on a train with a wheelchair can be broken down into two categories “with assistance” and “without assistance”!
Our recent city break in Cardiff seemed like the perfect opportunity to test both, not because we’re suckers for punishment but so we can report on how we managed.
We’ve read many horror stories about using a wheelchair on public transport. As we’re travel bloggers, we needed to check it out for ourselves, here’s how we got on…
Notice: This post is now out of date. The Virgin West Coast has been taken over by Avanti West Coast. We will update the journey in 2022. Here is a link to Avanti’s assisted travel information.
Taking a Wheelchair on a Train
We didn’t book assistance on the outbound journey. We knew it was a bit risky because we had to make two changes but what could possibly go wrong?
Getting to Lime Street – We are so used to going everywhere in the car even organising a taxi to the station was new to us! How were we to know we’d have to request a taxi which could fit a wheelchair in?
Honestly, what a load of bollocks that was, the first taxi didn’t have room in the boot for a folded wheelchair and the second wasn’t too happy about it!
In the end, we spoke directly with the controller who was more than happy to accommodate us with a larger vehicle, the driver even dismantled the wheelchair and lifted it in and out of the boot.
Lesson 1 … Book a taxi in advance and tell them what you need, don’t assume all taxis can carry wheelchairs!
The Station – Lime Street station is fully accessible… end of! The exciting bit for us at the station was watching the people who hadn’t been home from the night before. Clearly, some of them were still drunk and some of them just looked like they had been dragged through a hedge backwards.
Getting on a Virgin Train – We were stood/sat with everyone else waiting to board the train when we were approached by a Virgin Trains employee. He inquired whether we’d booked assistance and we informed him not.
After a couple of minutes, we were approached by another employee who stated he knew we hadn’t booked assistance but would we like help to get on the train? We said yes thinking he’d put a ramp down but what he actually did was way and beyond what we’d expected … read all about our Virgin Trains Experience here.
Needless to say our travelling “without Assistance” had ended!
Catching the Connecting Trains – Thanks to our new best friend (The Virgin Man) we were met at Crewe by another Virgin employee, he ramped us off the train and onto the connecting train.
We had booked seats in advance but not a wheelchair space, the train was packed and we had to leave the wheelchair by the doors which meant it was in people’s way (sorry)!
When the train arrived in Birmingham again we were met, ramped off then back on the Cardiff train. Fortunately, there was a space for wheelchairs but it was at the other end of the carriage so I dropped Bridget off at the seat then dragged the chair down the train.
Arriving in Cardiff Central – When we arrived in Cardiff Central we were met by an Arriva Trains Wales employee who ramped us off the train and helped us out of the station.
Lesson 2 … There are different levels of assistance available, make sure you book the assistance you need for the whole journey. Here’re the details of Virgin Trains Assistance
Lesson 3 … People are fundamentally nice, we know The Virgin Man is paid to do a job, but he didn’t have to help us out the way he did.
Our Journey Home…
Although our “without assistance” journey didn’t really work out Bridget informed me we absolutely must book assistance on the way home or The Bimblers was over!
Obviously, I got straight on the phone because I love bimbling and she sounded serious! The journey home was with Arriva Trains Wales so from their website I was directed to Assisted Travel where I was able to book assistance for the whole journey home.
Cardiff Central – Upon arrival at Cardiff Central we reported to the information desk and gave the assistance number we’d been emailed the day before. The lady got straight on the radio and within minutes, we were escorted to the platform.
On the platform we were met by the dispatcher, he positioned us ready for the arrival of the train. When the train arrived thanks to the dispatcher we were literally at the door of the wheelchair access carriage. He ramped us on the train first and settled us in the wheelchair space on the train.
Before we left the guard came to see us to make sure this position was OK and to enquire if we’d booked assistance all the way through to Liverpool? We had so we were able to sit back and enjoy the ride up to Chester.
Chester – At Chester, the dispatcher was waiting with a portable wheelchair ramp and made sure we got off first. Ironically everyone else getting off the train walked down the ramp!
We were then ramped onto the Merseyrail train for our short journey back to Liverpool. It sounds awful, but we were laughing together saying if it’s going to go wrong it’ll be on this last leg.
It didn’t – once the train left the station the guard came to see us and checked we were getting off at Lime Street. He then radioed ahead to confirm we were on route.
Liverpool – Arriving at the Lime Street underground the guard made sure we were OK getting to the door! Waiting on the platform was another guard with a wheelchair ramp and then another Merseyrail member of staff to make sure we could get from the underground up to the main station.
Travelling With and Without Assistance…
All in all, we were made to feel like “VIP’s” all the way home. What also impressed us was that it was all done without a fuss!
Our experiment of travelling with and without assistance essentially failed, but on the flip side, we now know there is only one way to travel … With Assistance!
Here’re some useful resources:
Stations Made Easy – This is an interactive tool to plan your journey through stations.
Passengers with Disabilities – An overview of assistance available through National Rail.
Disabled Persons Railcard – Save money with a Disabled Persons Railcard on your and your carers ticket.
Lesson 4 … Without question, if you are travelling on the rail system and need assistance … book it!
The train companies like at least 24 hours notice which isn’t unreasonable and by helping them you are helping yourself to a stress-free journey.
Where would you like to go next?
Our review of using Virgin Trains in a Wheelchair