The Rail Vehicle Accessibility Regulations (RVAR) are the mandatory standards for the accessibility of rail vehicles. Currently, over 7,600 rail vehicles in service meet the standards, while older trains are improved when they're refurbished. All vehicles must meet the standards by 2020.
For details of train timetables, phone National Rail Enquiries (open 24 hours).
Their website has live travel information and a journey planner feature. It also has information about stations, including a map and photos, and summaries of parking, staff hours and accessibility.
There is also live travel information, using two services to help you keep track of your train:
- Travel Alert will send a text message, tweet or email when your train is delayed. Sign up on the National Rail website.
- TrainTracker is an automated phone service that gives audio arrival and departure times. It's as up-to-date as the boards in the station. (Calls costs10p/min from landline, mobile charges vary. Text messaging costs network rate to send, 25p for each answer).
National Rail have a journey planning app for smartphones. RNIB also recommend the UK Train Times app.
Rail Travel Made Easy
Disability Onboard is a website aimed at helping disabled people to access rail travel. It has information about booking passenger assistance as well as useful travel tips.
Try a Train day
Some train operators run Try a Train days, where you can try out a train journey with a staff member and familiarise yourself with the stations, trains and facilities. Contact your local train operator or National Rail Enquiries.
You can arrange free passenger travel assistance through Passenger Assist, a system that can be booked through National Rail Enquiries or your train operating company, in person at your local station or online at the Disabled Persons Railcard website.
Once you've booked Passenger Assist, it's treated like a reservation. You and staff at the relevant stations each get an email record of what assistance you've booked and when.
Train companies ask for at least 24 hours notice so that arrangements can be made. Staff can meet blind and partially sighted travellers and offer guidance around the station. Staff are not allowed to lift you or help with personal assistance.
Having a railcard will get you a third off the price of most journeys. You may be eligible for a Disabled Persons Railcard or a Senior Persons Railcard. Family & Friends and 16-25 railcards are also available. Railcards are valid in Great Britain only. In Northern Ireland, Translink operates its own concession scheme for travellers.
Some train operating companies may offer their own concessions scheme - for wheelchair users, for example.
Disabled Persons Railcard: This also gives a discount to any adult companion. It costs £20 for a one-year railcard and £54 for a three-year railcard. You can download large-print leaflets and application forms from the Disabled Persons Railcard website.
Senior Railcard: This is available to anyone over 60. It costs £30 for one year and £70 for three years. Buy online on the Senior Railcard website or at a station.
In Northern Ireland, the SmartPass scheme offers a range of concessions.
Access at most large stations has been improved: usually there are ramps, low-counter windows, and induction loops for people using hearing aids. Handrails have been fitted on walkways and tactile strips installed on platform edges. Blue-badge parking is often available.
Some trains and trams have doors level with the platform. If not, trains will use ramps or other boarding devices. Most ramps are portable and fitted by station staff - book assistance in advance to make sure someone does this.
The maximum combined weight of you and your wheelchair or mobility scooter must be under the stated safe load of the ramp (normally 230-300kg). Doors that are large enough for wheelchair users are marked with a wheelchair symbol. Work is being done to provide better ramped access to platforms and more automatic doors and portable ramps.
Inside the train
RVAR-compliant trains are designed to be accessible to the 'reference wheelchair'. There are usually at least two wheelchair spaces on every train with multiple carriages. Longer trains have more: trains with 12 or more carriages must have at least 4 spaces. The space is not shared with buggies and pushchairs, but may be shared with mobility scooters (although some operators give priority to wheelchair users).
The passage from the door to the wheelchair space will usually be at least 850mm wide, and the wheelchair area will be at least 1300mm long by 750mm wide, with a backrest to park against. Other features include:
- automatic, light-touch internal doors
- handrails in contrasting colours
- accessible toilets near the wheelchair space
- a way to attract attention in an emergency
- service in your seat if you can't access the buffet
Not all trains meet the standards described above. Many now have wide exterior doors and automatic interior doors. Some have accessible toilets but others do not. Space may be tight. Check details of individual services with the train operating company.
Any replacement transport will be accessible unless it has to be provided at short notice. If so, the train company will provide an accessible taxi to take you to your destination at no extra cost to you.
Train operators are not required to carry mobility scooters but most of them will.
Folded-up mobility scooters
All train companies will let you carry a folded-up scooter on to the train as luggage. Some train companies say their staff will help you carry the scooter on board, but others can't guarantee this assistance. Check in advance and think about what you'll be able to manage.
Travelling on your mobility scooter
Some train companies allow you to travel on your mobility scooter if it meets certain criteria. The size of allowable mobility scooters varies between operators, normally because of different carriage designs, but it must be able to fit in the wheelchair space. If you want to use your mobility scooter on trains, you should:
- Contact the train company concerned for details of their policy.
- If you're changing trains, check for each part of the journey.
- Consider the scooter's weight and climbing capability because of the ramps.
- You'll also need to manoeuvre your scooter within the carriage and position it in the wheelchair space.
Mobility scooter permits
Some companies run permit schemes for scooters. When you apply, you'll be asked for details about the size and other features of your scooter so that the train company can check it's suitable. They might also ask for a copy of the owner's manual as proof and photos of you or the scooter. Once you've got a permit, you can show it to staff as proof. If you get a new scooter, you'll need a new permit.
Which scooter on which trains?
Policies for scooter carriage vary between the different train operating companies. We have produced a summary of each company's policies (PDF). You can also use our search tool to find mobility scooters with the right dimensions. For further information, contact your train operator or visit their website; National Rail also has details of train operators' policies on mobility scooters.
Who gets priority for the wheelchair space?
Most train companies don't distinguish between wheelchairs and mobility scooters when a booking is made, although some give priority to wheelchair users.
Trains show their destinations on the outside and inside of the carriages. Depending on the service, each station may be announced audibly, visually or not at all. Staff can provide information about accessible connecting services.
In England, Wales and Scotland, contact Transport Focus. In Northern Ireland, contact Translink or the Consumer Council for Northern Ireland.
- Always book assistance at least 24 hours in advance.
- Contact the train company to find out what arrangements there are if you need assistance after 5 or 6pm.
- If you're returning late, check whether the lifts will be working.
- Book at least 24 hours before you travel: someone has to set out a ramp for you to get on the train, plus you need to reserve the wheelchair space in a manner similar to booking a seat.
- In case of problems, take the National Rail Enquiries contact details with you. The phone line is open 24 hours a day and they'll have a record of your passenger-assistance booking. You can also bookmark m.nationalrail.co.uk on your smartphone.
Last updated: August 2016