Paralympian stranded on train after guards fail to help her: ‘I went home and cried’

Cathy Adams
Paralympian Sophie Christiansen was stuck on a South West Railway train: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Paralympian Sophie Christiansen “went home and cried” after she was stuck on a train with no guard to help her get off.

Ms Christiansen, who has won three gold medals for dressage in the 2012 and 2016 Paralympic Games, was travelling on a South West Railway (SWR) service from London to Godalming in Surrey.

The Paralympian, who has cerebral palsy, uploaded a video to Twitter, which shows her stuck between the closing doors while a fellow passenger holds them open for her.

“This is what happened when I got back last night after @SW_Help said they told the guard I was on the train,” she wrote.

“I went home and I cried.

“It finally hit me that society is just not going to change to make services truly accessible. I will have to accept discrimination all my life.”

In the footage, she said she has asked the train operator “so many times” to get a better system.

After a couple of minutes, a station guard is seen coming with a ramp to help Ms Christiansen get off the train.

Earlier in the journey, when leaving London, she tweeted: “A massive thank you to the two guys who lifted my wheelchair onto the train when I couldn't find a member of @LondonWaterloo staff to get the ramp.

“Although now I have no way of getting in touch with the @SW_Help guard for a ramp to get off... #CommutingWithADisability”.

A South West Railway spokesperson said: “We are incredibly sorry at the way Ms Christiansen has been left feeling following her journey on Wednesday.

“While we successfully assist tens of thousands of customers every year, even one failed journey is too many. Un-booked passenger assistance is a challenging area for the railway industry as a whole and SWR is no different. We are working hard with industry colleagues and the RDG in investing in both technology and processes to try and stop this from happening.

“We have already spoken with Ms Christiansen to apologise and to ensure we learn all the lessons possible to prevent it from happening again.”

“Too many disabled people have to put up with distressing and stressful experiences like this day in day out,” said Ceri Smith, policy and campaigns manager at disability equality charity Scope.

“It’s especially disappointing as the rail regulator has introduced guidance to make sure disabled passengers can rely on staff turning up when they’re needed.

“Train companies need to urgently act on this guidance to stop disabled people getting stranded on trains.”

According to recent government research, two thirds of disabled rail passengers experience problems when travelling by train.

Looking at the experiences of disabled travellers all around the UK, the Department for Transport found that inaccessible toilets, ticket offices being closed and attitudes of other passengers all created barriers to travel.

The report, compiled in collaboration with Transport Focus, was based on a combination of 1,400 online survey responses, 150 face-to-face survey responses, 50 qualitative interviews, 12 expert interviews and 15 rail journeys conducted by passengers wearing a small camera to capture their experiences.

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Of those surveyed, 23 per cent reported there were problems once onboard the train, with three in 10 passengers who experienced an issue citing a lack of toilets or the attitudes of others.

Dominic Lund-Conlon, head of accessibility and inclusion for the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), which oversees UK train operators, told The Independent: “We want to make the railway more accessible for more people and we are sincerely sorry when disabled people don’t get the service they expect when travelling by train.

“It is important to everyone working in rail that passengers have the confidence to make their journeys and we are working together to change and improve now by upgrading stations, bringing thousands of new, more accessible carriages on track and speeding up the process for passengers booking assistance.”

RDG is working with Ms Christiansen and SWR to identify what happened.

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