Southern Rail – it’s about time you listened to your passengers
Meet Chris Hogg, a 36 year old lyricist from Sutton in Surrey. Every week Chris travels by Southern Rail, taking the train from Sutton to Ashtead to attend his music class. Chris is a wheel chair user and usually travels with his carer Kayleigh Steptoe.
Unfortunately for Chris, despite always notifying staff at Sutton station of his restricted mobility and requesting assistance to alight the train at Ashtead, he often arrives at his stop to find nobody there. Unable to alight without a wheelchair ramp, Chris is stuck and often unsure who to call for help. There is no conductor on-board – a result of Southern’s decision to extend driver only operated trains.
Chris recalls a recent experience when having arrived at Ashtead to an empty platform Kayleigh stepped off the train to look for someone to help but not only was there no conductor, there were no staff on the platform either. Kayleigh frantically tried to get the drivers attention by waving her arms in the air and shouting, the driver didn’t notice her and started to close the train doors, she only just managed to jump back on-board before the train moved away, so they missed their stop.
The same situation occurred at the next stop Leatherhead, this time in order to prevent going even further out of their way, Kayleigh put herself between the closing doors and forced them open in an attempt to alert the driver – the driver was unable to see what was causing the blockage (they were in the middle of the train) and continued to try and close the doors. Kayleigh was determined and continued to hold on knowing they must alight at Leatherhead so they could change platforms and go back the other way.
With no staff in sight and the driver unaware of the reason for the door jam, it was left to a fellow passenger to run under the underpass, round to the other side of the platform to the ticket office to find someone to help. In the meantime Kayleigh (who weighs no more than 60kg) was left with her left arm and leg squashed in the train door as she attempted to stall the train.
The one member of staff at Leatherhead was keen to help, but it took them some time to get the ramp and run over to the other side to Chris and Kayleigh’s aid. Chris explains that if it hadn’t been for Kayleigh and the help of a stranger he could have ended up at the end of the line before the train driver or any member of staff were aware of his situation.
Kayleigh explains that the incident wasn’t the first time and doubts it’ll be the last. The pair have ended up going all the way to Balham on a return journey from Ashtead to Sutton, because they weren’t able to get help. Kayleigh said:
“I feel all trains should have conductors as they are the people that will be able to help us, some stations don’t have any workers on both platforms this is what can cause problems for us and the train drivers do not always lean out to see why the train doors are being stopped by a passenger.
“I 100% support the strike to keep conductors on trains and feel every station needs more than one staff member, because if the person who is going to help us off the train is held up helping another passenger, where does that leave us! I feel all staff at the stations should be trained and shown how to use the ramps, agency staff don’t know – we have to show them!
“The regular staff at Sutton station that know myself and Chris are brilliant and so are a few of the guys at Ashtead, always so helpful they make our journey a pleasant one. Chris really enjoys talking to the regular guys at the station on a Friday when I take him to his music lesson, he feels they care.”
“I just don’t trust the service, I want conductors on trains so that I can have the peace of mind that when I get on the train I will be able to get off.
“I don’t want to feel like a second class citizen. I should be able to use public transport without having to feel like I’m just an extra ‘job’ for someone to have to take care of.”
Guest blog by Lauren Usher, Chris Hogg and Kayleigh Steptoe