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Abandoned by National Rail

This weekend, I travelled to Chichester to meet friends.

As most disabled people do, I researched my journey options thoroughly and bought a return ticket from my home city of Leicester from the ticket office on Friday. Due to my condition, MS, I don’t know if I’m going to be well enough to travel, so I rarely buy train tickets in advance. I usually don’t book the access service either, because it doesn’t cater to my needs, as I don’t need a wheelchair or a guide, and don’t know in advance if I can travel; I just need reliable trains.

The journey on Friday was long, but bearable. I’d been told online, and at the ticket office, that there was going to be a bus replacement service on the journey back on Sunday, which I accepted. The bus replacement service was clearly marked on the train route planner, and I had no choice but to trust Southern and National rail.

However, on Sunday morning, I checked the national rail app train just before we set out, to find that it looked like no trains were running at all.

In a panic, I tried ringing the assist service, but couldn’t get through. I’d left over two hours to contact the assistance service as they’d stipulated online, and there was no information on the National Rail app, which just suggested we travel the next day.

Panicking, I had to walk to the station to find out what was going on, which took nearly an hour as I have to take regular breaks.

I was then told at the station that there were no replacement buses available. I was told I’d have to walk back to the bus station, catch a bus at my own expense to Barnham, and then take the train home from Barnham .

I started walking at 9 o’clock, leaving plenty of time to pick up the bus replacement service scheduled for 1021. However, I can only walk very slowly, especially as I had to double back on myself. Therefore, I missed the first public bus.

The bus we caught had multiple stops, so took far longer than a bus replacement service, so I missed my next connection…and from there the journey got worse.

I ended up travelling for over eight hours for a journey that is advertised as 3 1/2.

Near tears, I rang the Assistance Service again, and asked why I’d not been able to book Assistance, and what would they have done if I had booked it? I was told that because the bus replacement service had been cancelled for everyone, there was nothing they would have done, because, as a disabled person, I wasn’t being discriminated against.

This absolutely horrendous experience shows how broken our transport system is, and how rail company inclusion policies are often just fiction.

Disabled people can only use transport if they’re confident it’s going to work effectively, that they run bus replacements if needed and that the Assistance Service will help if there is an issue.

I have complained and asked that my comments to be passed on to the assist group so they are aware of this issue and my complaint formally logged and looked into.

It was a farce. It was cruel. It was unnecessary and illustrates why disabled people are often frightened to trust in public transport.

But what will my response be? A Fulsome, apology and assurances it won’t happen again, or a vanilla bland pat on the head. I suspect the latter, and it’s infuriating and ablest. We deserve better.

Mags Lewis is the Green Party’s Disability Spokesperson. She cares passionately about the environment and the need to hear from, see and respect disabled people.