A lack of tactile paving at railway stations is exposing blind and partially sighted people to "significantly higher levels of risk than the general public", with people with sight loss making up nine to 15 per cent of people who fall from station platforms, a new report from the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) has found.
Last year, a passenger train struck and killed a partially sighted man who had fallen on to the track from a platform at Eden Park station in South London. The report was designed to independently investigate this incident.
It concludes it’s likely the passenger fell from the platform as he wasn’t aware that he was close to the edge. The report acknowledges the potential role played by the absence of tactile surface and considers broader issues around tactile paving at railway stations and experiences of blind and partially sighted people.
This is simply unacceptable, and action must be taken now to make stations safe for blind and partially sighted customers.
Sarah Lambert, Head of Social Change at RNIB said
Unfortunately this is not an isolated incident, we know of a number of similar occurrences where the lack of tactile paving may have contributed to blind or partially sighted people falling onto railway tracks.
The report highlights that according to the Rail Regulator (ORR) there is a "blurred line" between whether tactile paving is an accessibility issue or a safety issue, as it technically falls into both categories. Railway organisations have a legal duty to ensure safety issues are managed as far as is practical. However accessibility issues are governed by the Equality Act which only requires organisations to make "reasonable adjustments".
Sarah Lambert commented:
Tactile paving is not just an accessibility measure, it is fundamental to the health and safety of passengers and pedestrians. In today’s society, there should be no train platforms without tactile paving, and it is unacceptable that it took a senseless tragedy to bring attention to its vital importance.
There is also historical confusion around which organisation is actually responsible for installing the tactile paving. The ORR has clarified this, stating that while station operators are responsible for passenger safety and routine day-to-day repair and maintenance, Network Rail are responsible for structural safety and refurbishment of the station which includes tactile paving.
We welcome this much needed clarity as to who is responsible for the installation of tactile paving and feel Network Rail and the Department for Transport must take forward the report’s recommendations, and start work immediately to install tactile paving where it is needed across the network.
RAIB recommends the Department for Transport and Network Rail create a new, coherent policy and process for establishing when tactile surfaces need to be provided, and the two organisations should progress installation of tactile surfaces at stations that currently need them.
They suggest the Rail Standards Safety Board should research and develop means of reducing risks ‘associated with visually impaired people using station platforms that don’t yet have tactile paving’ as well as collecting more data on risks associated with disabled people more widely.
They also recommend operators publish information on which platforms are fitted with tactile surfaces.
We welcome these recommendations but we believe action needs to be taken now. We are launching a campaign for a step change in the availability of tactile paving at train platforms across the United Kingdom.
Network Rail and the Department for Transport must set to work immediately on creating a policy and process for deciding where tactile paving should be installed, followed by a strict timetable for making the necessary changes to each station.