East West Rail’s accessibility panel lists priority issues for disabled passengers

  • Accessible toilets, step free access and level boarding among ‘must-haves’ identified for stations and trains
  • Wish list aims to bridge the gap between current standards and best practice to improve experience for rising number of disabled people

East West Railway Company’s Accessibility and Advisory Panel (AAP) has drawn up a list of priority issues for train companies to address to ensure the varying needs of disabled people are fully met.

With latest figures showing that nearly one in four (24%) of people in the UK is disabled*, the AAP has highlighted key areas for improvement that address the needs of disabled people to be considered early in the design and construction stages so East West Rail (EWR) can be accessed and enjoyed by everyone.

The “must-haves” identified by the panel, which held its first meeting one year ago this month (17 April 2023) are focused on trains, stations and digital services. They include:

  • Accessible toilets on trains and at stations, including Changing Places toilets
  • Step free access to and through stations, including lifts, for people with mobility aids
  • Level, unassisted boarding with minimal intervention
  • Making timetables, information boards and social media content accessible for all
  • Removing ticket barriers for disabled people
  • Scrapping the need to pre-book for free accessible parking
  • Removing the need to use an app to park – make displaying a Blue Badge sufficient
  • Providing space on trains for two wheelchair users to travel together
  • Making lighting more suitable for people with low vision
  • Improving access to station staff who have had full disability training
  • Providing a wide variety of seating styles with armrests

The AAP was set up in advance of trains operating on the first stage of EWR, from Oxford to Bletchley, in 2025 with panel members providing insights on the barriers to rail travel faced by local communities along the route and potential solutions to challenging issues.

The Panel is thought to be the first of its kind considering these issues in design at the outset of building a new railway and members believe it will help EWR Co deliver a truly accessible railway.

Joe O’Dwyer, from Cambourne, said: “When I first became disabled the first journey I had on an old British Rail train was in the guard’s van because the train wasn’t accessible to wheelchair users. The guard’s van was an old wooden dusty old unit that was essentially there to carry parcels. Back then it wasn’t even thought about making transport rolling stock accessible for disabled people, but I am sure East West Rail will use our advice sagely and provide the best equipped infrastructure railway service they can.”

Gary Dormer, from Halton, Buckinghamshire, said: “I’m severely sight impaired and when I’m going into stations or any buildings, I’m constantly looking at the ground or the access port. So, if there are glass doors, for example, I can literally walk straight through them which hurts. I was extremely pleased to be asked to be on the panel. I think that EWR is giving it the priority that it deserves to encourage people onto the networks where some other providers could learn lessons.”

Stephen Liney, from Wellingborough, said: “If East West Rail can begin to ask the questions to people with lived experience, then that leads the way for other organisations to follow and it’s a step forward for society to become more inclusive for disabled people and their requirements.”

Mary Doyle, Accessibility Advisory Panel Co-Chair and independent inclusive transport consultant, said: “By working with people directly you are hearing it from the horse’s mouth about how to make these things better and it sends a massively important message that we are passengers and we want to use the rail service like any person on the planet. The difference that we’ve experienced with East West Rail is that we are in at the grass roots level at the design and building phase of the entire project, so we’ve got the first opportunity in 200 years to really influence the positive outcomes and do it right.”

Georgina Taylor, Head of Customer Service Delivery, EWR Co, said: “We are determined to make sure that all customers have a fantastic experience by building a railway that meets different physical and mobility needs, as well as mental wellbeing and neurodiversity.

“The AAP’s priority issues list will help us better understand barriers to travel and how to overcome them, enabling us to be a beacon for inclusive rail design.”


Notes to Editors

The Accessibility Advisory Panel is made up of 12 local residents from across the route.

The Panel’s full list of priority issues is detailed in a separate document available on request.

*The Family Resources Survey shows that the number of disabled people in the UK has risen to 16.1 million (24%) in the most recent survey year, 2023.

Media assets:

Video interviews with AAP members

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About the East West Rail Project

The East West Rail Project is a once in a generation opportunity to connect people and businesses between Oxford, Milton Keynes, Bedford and Cambridge through a new direct rail line. It is a railway with community at its heart that will open up new journeys, cut travel times, and ease congestion on local roads. The route will connect people to the things and places that matter, bringing local benefit and sustainable growth by unlocking the social and economic potential of the area. 

The East West Rail Project will be delivered in three Connection Stages: 

  • Connection Stage One: Oxford to Bletchley and Milton Keynes
  • Connection Stage Two: Oxford to Bedford
  • Connection Stage Three: Oxford to Cambridge


Network Rail was responsible for developing the first part of Connection Stage One, connecting Oxford with Bicester before the East West Rail Company (EWR co) was set up. Since 2018, EWR Co and Network Rail have partnered in a construction alliance, East West Rail Alliance, to complete Connection Stage One. EWR Co and Network Rail are acting as the Department for Transport’s joint sponsors. 

To deliver Connection Stage 2 and Connection Stage 3 a new railway needs to be constructed between Bedford and Cambridge and associated works are needed between Oxford and Bedford to upgrade and refurbish the existing railway infrastructure. EWR Co proposes to make an application to the Secretary of State for a Development Consent Order (DCO) to permit the construction and operation of these works.


About the East West Railway Company 

The East West Railway Company (EWR Co) is a non-departmental public body with limited company status set up by the Secretary of State for Transport in 2018 to deliver the East West Rail (EWR) Project.  

EWR Co aims to bring fresh thinking to the Project, challenging the industry status quo, leading to more efficient and cost-effective project delivery and better outcomes for the communities in and around the Project.

The corridor, which runs from Oxford through Milton Keynes and Bedford to Cambridge, is an economic artery that makes the UK a global leader in life sciences, technology and innovation, with the potential to create jobs, drive growth and attract investment for the entire country. EWR Co’s ambition is to unlock the full potential of this region that is vital to keeping the UK globally competitive in a way that considers the environment and offers value for taxpayers.