Blog > February 2020 > Travelling by Train as a Wheelchair User

Travelling by Train as a Wheelchair User

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Travel is an important part of life, and train travel is increasingly becoming a preferred mode of transportation for many people.

Train travel is much faster than travel by road, and with petrol prices rising, it’s usually much more affordable. And in today’s climate-aware world, many are looking to public transport as an option for reducing carbon emissions.

But for people with disabilities, access requirements can often make travelling by train difficult. In the past, limited wheelchair seating space, narrow walkways and corridors, inadequate adapted bathrooms, and poor access to lifts have been barriers to disability-friendly train travel and have seemed to promote exclusion.

Luckily, access is improving in Australian and New Zealand trains and stations, meaning that more people with disabilities are able to enjoy the benefits of train travel.

Where, How, and Why are You Travelling?

In Australia, under the Disability Discrimination Act (1992) and the Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport (2002), people with disabilities are legally entitled to access the same services as able-bodied people. This means that public transport providers are legally required to provide adequate access provisions for travellers with disabilities. However, provisions do vary across different regions and forms of travel.

In rural areas, where resources are often more limited than in the city centres, accessibility is still working to catch up. If travelling to or from rural train stations, it’s a good idea to conduct some pre-travel research into what facilities are available.

Long train journeys are operated by different providers and use different tracks to short travel public transport lines. These services are often luxury travel options and include dining and sleeping cabins. This means that access requirements are usually much more significant than they are for short journeys. However, most services, including the popular Ghan and Indian Pacific trains, provide disability accessible cabins that offer more space for mobility aids, accessible sleeping areas, height adjustable furnishings, bathroom rails, and shower seating. Many services also offer use of a company-owned wheelchair.

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Planning Ahead

A smooth journey starts with a plan. Public transport websites, social media accounts, and phone support staff can offer information into regional public transport services and the accessibility facilities they provide.

Most public transport services also offer online journey planning tools. These can help people with disabilities to choose accessible routes ahead of time. Google Maps’ wheelchair accessible routes function is a useful tool that is currently available in Sydney and is expected to roll out nationally in the future. This search tool allows people with disabilities to search for transport services and routes that include all specified access requirements.

What to Look For

When planning an accessible train trip, it’s a good idea to think about the following facilities:
  • General station access: Is there wheelchair access to pass the ticketing machines? Will you need to be aware of additional steps or curbs? Are ramps available?
  • Lift access: Are station lifts available and functioning? Are they wide enough to accommodate you, your mobility aid(s), and/or your carer?
  • Accessible hygiene facilities: Are there adapted toilets available? Do you know where they are located?
  • Vision and hearing access: Are you aware of any vision or hearing access provisions needed? Is the train station serviced by a light up timetable display? Are train details announced verbally? Are there tactile paths? Is your train equipped with audio induction loops if you need help?
  • Payment and documentation: Are you aware of any subsidies or free travel you or your carer may be entitled to? Are you aware of assistance animal laws? Do you have the necessary documentation to prove your entitlement to any of these provisions?
  • Train seating/space: Does you train have enough to comfortably accommodate you and your mobility equipment? If you are travelling on a long journey in a sleeping carriage, have you thought about hygiene, sleeping, and food access requirements, and have you communicated these requirements to your service provider?

Ticketing and Discounts

In most states, train fare concession programs are available to offer subsidies and/or free travel to people with certain disabilities. Access cards and passes are typically available to people who live with permanent physical or intellectual disabilities who are able to travel independently using public transport services but are unable to rely on standard transport cards.

Travelling with a Carer

Companion Cards are recognised by most public transport providers, allowing carers to accompany people with disabilities on trains free of charge. These cards are issues for free by the Department of Family and Community Services and are not income tested. They can be used across all participating states. However, they are not applicable on Great Southern Rail services.

Station and Train Accessibility

Metropolitan trains are subject to anti-discrimination laws and must provide accessible options for travellers with disabilities.

Most public train stations in Australia are equipped with access ramps to platforms, lift access, accessible toilets, and ticketing areas that are wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair.

City train stations are also serviced by tactile paths for people with vision impairments. Time and destination information is displayed on electronic boards, and is also regularly announced verbally using intercom systems. Trains and train stations are equipped with audio induction loops at help points.

On board, most public trains have collapsible seating options that can be folded out of the way so that wheelchairs can be safely parked. These designated areas are marked by wheelchair accessibility symbols and are usually located close to the carriage doors.

Australian law protects against disability discrimination, including discrimination against people with disabilities and refusal of entry due to the use of certified assistance animal. Assistance animals whose training is in accordance with the Disability Discrimination Act (1992) and the Guide, Hearing, and Assistance Dogs Act (2009) are welcome on public transport services, but their handlers must carry a handler’s identity card or assistance animal pass to prove their certification if necessary.

State and Territory Public Transport Accessibility Information Resources