Govia Thameslink Railway’s mission to improve rail travel for all
In support of National Careers Week, Sophie Court, Accessibility Improvement Manager at Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), explains her role and how she helps play a part in GTR’s mission to improve the level of service for passengers requiring extra assistance when travelling.
I have been an Accessibility Improvement Manager at Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), the rail operator that runs Great Northern, Southern, Thameslink and Gatwick Express, since January 2019. Along with my team, I am responsible for ensuring the company is following obligations under the Equality Act, as well as industry regulations like the Office of Rail and Road (ORR)’s Accessible Travel Policy Guidance and the Department for Transport (DfT) codes of practice.
My role at GTR is very diverse, and my background in law really helps when it comes to knowledge of different legislation. Together with the rest of my team, we are supported by an Access Advisory Panel (AAP) which is made up of passengers that frequently travel with us who may need additional support. Members from the AAP have recently helped us to design a refreshed training programme to 3,000 customer-facing colleagues. This has been delivered by specialist trainers with lived experience, with a focus on the customer impact of positive and not so positive experiences of travelling by rail.
A continuous journey of improvement
Our aim is to get rid of the barriers that prevent independent travel on the railway, one way we are doing this is through the Assisted Travel scheme.
At GTR, we have a mission to improve the level of service we give people who need assistance. Our aim is to get rid of the barriers that prevent independent travel on the railway, one way we are doing this is through the Assisted Travel scheme. Passengers requiring extra help when travelling can pre-book assistance, this means that we can organise for staff to be on-hand to help customers board the train safely, get help with tickets and feel confident travelling. However, pre-booking assistance is not essential as there is also the ability to request Assisted Travel at any point during a journey.
People who can make use of the service include those with physical disabilities, as well as non-visible disabilities, such as autism and learning difficulties, and older members of society who may find it harder to negotiate stations and trains.
We are continuously working towards commitments that have been set out as part of our Accessible Travel Policy. This policy has already seen the dedicated training delivered to my colleagues by experts who are disabled themselves and use trains frequently.
Previous sessions have explored the barriers customers face, how to offer assistance, and how to communicate effectively. This gave employees first-hand insights into the challenges disabled customers face. New staff joining GTR at all levels will receive the same training.
In addition to our Assisted Travel team and accessibility training, GTR runs Try A Train days. These are designed to help individuals with learning difficulties and additional needs feel more confident when using our trains. Sessions include how to buy tickets, how to ask for help at stations and where to find information about services and routes.
We are currently trialling Mobile Assistance teams across the network to reach 41 unstaffed, or partly staffed, stations across the network within 20 minutes to give assistance to passengers. We have also added more detailed information about the accessibility and mobility access of every GTR station on the National Rail Enquiries website, as well as on each of our own brand websites. Improvements to our websites have included making information easier for blind or visually impaired people to access and read.
Making improvements to people’s lives
Personally, I want to make the railway more inclusive by breaking down barriers and helping people to live life as they want to. The whole company is invested in building on our Accessible Travel Policy and although there is a long way to go, I can see the improvements we are making to people’s lives and that is what I love about my job.
…we will continue listening to our passengers and make the necessary changes to the railway to ensure that everyone feels confident to travel by train.
As mentioned, the AAP offers support and guidance by providing a network where everyone has the confidence to travel. The panel consists of volunteer passengers who share their travel experiences and give constructive feedback. The panel was brought together to better-represent the needs of all our passengers by understanding their experiences and challenges, and includes passengers with visual and hearing impairments, passengers with physical disabilities, passengers travelling with young children, elderly passengers requiring assistance when travelling and passengers with hidden disabilities.
We meet with this important panel every two months to hear their views and put practical ideas for improvements before senior managers. Their recommendations help GTR to continue to enhance accessibility on our trains and stations. Additionally, our internal network of Accessibility Ambassadors champion excellent passenger assistance amongst colleagues.
Our main goal is to make travel more accessible to all, and we will continue listening to our passengers and make the necessary changes to the railway to ensure that everyone feels confident to travel by train.
National Careers Week
For National Careers Week (7-12 March 2022), I am passionate about sharing the work that the rail industry is doing to improve accessibility, but I also acknowledge that we are still on a journey of improvement. If you are interested in working with us to create a more inclusive and accessible network, or see what other careers are available at GTR, please visit our website.