Access For All: Interview with Irish Rail’s Ronan Murphy
Posted: 26 April 2023 | Global Railway Review | No comments yet
For Global Railway Review’s ‘Access For All’ interview series, Ronan Murphy, Head of Customer Care and Accessibility at Irish Rail, explains how the operator is committed to continuous improvements to deliver an excellent experience for customers with disabilities, and gives details of several exciting new accessibility initiatives currently on trial.
What is Irish Rail’s mission statement when it comes to accessibility?
Irish Rail’s vision for rail in Ireland is to be the backbone of an integrated, sustainable, and accessible public transport network serving all Ireland’s communities. We are committed to continuous improvements in accessibility, with the long-term objective of universal access for our customers. The Irish Rail Disability User Group’s mission is to be a key contributor to the transformation of all Iarnród Eireann services to be universally accessible and inclusive of everybody. Our Chief Executive Officer, Jim Meade, is fully committed to putting accessibility at the heart of everything we do to improve the experience for customers with disabilities.
Do you think the rail industry as a whole is doing enough to ensure rail travel is accessible for all?
…I think there is a real commitment across many organisations to make rail services and infrastructure accessible for all.
From my experience of meeting colleagues across European railway companies at a recent rail industry event, I think there is a real commitment across many organisations to make rail services and infrastructure accessible for all. Despite the many challenges rail companies face, there are passionate people who are driving change within their organisations to ensure that accessibility is high on their company’s agenda.
What onboard amenities/facilities do Irish Rail trains offer to ensure people with disabilities have a comfortable journey?
Irish Rail has dedicated spaces for wheelchair customers on all of our services. For customers with hidden disabilities there are priority seating available, located close to the on-board toilets. We have recently introduced On-board Customer Service Officers to help all customers but particularly those with a disability, which has proven to be a positive experience. On our Dublin to Cork route, we have recently introduced a Quieter Coach on most services, which offers customers with hidden disabilities a quieter experience while travelling. On our other intercity and commuter routes, we have provided sensory packs for customers who have additional needs.
How does Irish Rail support individuals with disabilities to enhance their station navigation experience?
Our Disability User Group were involved from the design phase of our new Station Wayfinding project. There were several consultation sessions at Killester station in Dublin which was used as the pilot station due to its proximity to the Central Remedial Clinic and the Irish Wheelchair Association. The station wayfinding project is now live at 60% of our stations with most stations completed by the end of 2023. We are currently looking at technology for visually impaired customers.
Is website accessibility important?
…website accessibility is a top priority for Irish Rail with some brilliant work undertaken by our Digital Team in recent times to improve the online experience.
Yes, website accessibility is a top priority for Irish Rail with some brilliant work undertaken by our Digital Team in recent times to improve the online experience. We consulted our accessibility consultants and our web/app suppliers. We verified that the content on our digital platforms is compatible with assistive technology such as screen readers and requested our accessibility consultants to audit any new features or widgets implemented on the website on a regular basis to ensure these are accessible. Complex or complicated informational images such as route maps of the railway network, were given accessible alternative text to ensure these can be read and understood by persons with disabilities. For example, for the InterCity route map, text alternatives are provided for each route.
There are few videos and no audio files on the website, but where possible, videos uploaded to the Iarnród Eireann website are given closed captions so these can be understood by users with hearing impairments. Links and CTAs on the website are given correct descriptions to advise the user where they are being directed to, as opposed to using generic link text. For example, instead of ‘click here’, a more accurate description of a link is ‘search for train prices’ or ‘plan your journey’. We created and published an accessibility statement.
How does Irish Rail ensure its staff are trained to provide assistance to people with disabilities?
Disability Awareness Training is provided by a third-party organisation through a one-day intensive course covering the following areas: mobility issues for all ages and for older people and people with walking frames, wheelchair customers, dementia, sight loss, hearing loss, speech disorders, mental health issues, learning difficulties, autism, brain injuries and Parkinson’s Disease. Online Just A Minute (JAM) Card Training is provided to our 1,200 customer-facing staff. In 2022, 429 staff completed Disability Awareness Training and 96 new staff completed JAM Card Training. All frontline facing staff receive accessibility training. Our security contractors also undertake accessibility training as it is important that all areas of the customers’ journey are covered.
How can people with disabilities provide feedback to Irish Rail and how is this information taken forward to improve accessibility?
We give customers the opportunity to provide feedback through our website, or by email or phone through our dedicated Accessibility Officer.
We are very open and approachable to receiving feedback from our customers. We analyse feedback that comes in through our Accessibility Officer or Customer Care team. We give customers the opportunity to provide feedback through our website, or by email or phone through our dedicated Accessibility Officer. Also, our Disability User Group provide great insight from their member organisations of the issues being experienced. One good example of how we listen is when I recently received feedback through the National Council for the Blind on having to complete a form before travelling on our cross-border service to Belfast. Following several meetings with the Department of Transport in Ireland, the form requirement was dropped in place of a relatively simple IT solution. This small change made a huge difference to customers with a visual impairment and customers with learning difficulties.
How does Irish Rail collaborate with disability advocacy groups to improve accessibility for people with disabilities?
The Irish Rail Disability Users Group (DUG) was established in 1995. Its purpose is to engage with organisations representing people with disabilities to improve accessibility to our network, stations and on-board trains. The DUG is chaired by an Independent Chair, Tony Ward, has 15 members and has organically evolved since it’s foundation. The work of the DUG is guided by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, The Disability Act 2005, Public Sector Equality and Human Rights Duty. It is also guided by Project Ireland 2040, Iarnród Éireann Strategy 2020-2027 and recommendations of the Joint Oireachtas Committee Report 2019. The DUG’s mission is to be a key contributor to the transformation of all Iarnród Eireann services to be universally accessible to, and inclusive of, everybody.
Accessibility is a key deliverable of our DART+ fleet and an objective of Irish Rail in the ongoing expansion of the railway as a major public transport provider.
The DUG meets each quarter with an agreed agenda to discuss all relevant issues and updates regarding accessibility. There are separate meetings which take place on an ad hoc basis as required with the separate bodies or disability persons organisations. In 2022, I introduced a quarterly accessibility newsletter which gives an update on all the accessibility projects being undertaken by Irish Rail.
Accessibility is a key deliverable of our DART+ fleet and an objective of Irish Rail in the ongoing expansion of the railway as a major public transport provider. The key accessibility issue from a train interface perspective is the platform gap and platform height. Great effort went into the specification of the new DART+ trains to ensure passenger accessibility is transformed on the DART railway. The vehicle tenderers were incentivised to focus on the carriage floor height above platform, proposals to address the platform gap as well as accessibility and features for mobility impaired customers. The DUG is part of the design phase process to gather feedback for the interior and exterior design of the new fleet which is expected to enter service in 2025.
Our Disability User Group were also involved in the design phase of the station wayfinding project with several consultation sessions at Killester station which was used as the pilot station due to its proximity to Central Remedial Clinic and Irish Wheelchair Association.
To what extent do you think that more needs to be done at a government level to ensure trains and stations become even more accessible?
The current investment in Irish Rail needs to be maintained with priority to public transport ahead of roads. The Minister for Transport and Government has given great support to Irish Rail by investing in railway infrastructure and new rolling stock. With a Victorian infrastructure there are many challenges faced to make stations accessible. The ongoing investment in our station accessibility investment programme with €8 million spent in 2022 and €9 million to be spent in 2023 needs to continue. With this investment we are seeing real positive change for customers with disabilities.
Is Irish Rail currently trialling/developing any new accessibility initiatives?
Yes, it’s an exciting time at Irish Rail and we are busy trialling and developing several exciting new accessibility initiatives, including:
Currently being trialled at Kent station in Cork, WelcoMe empowers customers who are differently abled to discreetly inform our station staff of the assistance required before walking through our door. Using WelcoMe, our staff are aware of what customers need and know exactly how to help create an enjoyable, stress-free journey. Customers simply build an accessibility profile and let Irish Rail know of their intention to visit and their specific requirements. Irish Rail will be notified of the customers visit and receive an overview and top tips of how best to meet our customers’ individual needs.
These contain ear defenders, sunglasses, and a fidget spinner and are distributed to customers travelling by rail with additional needs.
Ireland’s First Age Friendly Station
McDonagh station in Kilkenny was Ireland’s first age-friendly train station in 2022 with further stations planned in 2023.
Please Offer Me A Seat badges
These badges are available for customers that need a seat, particularly customers with a hidden disability.
Just A Minute (JAM Card)
The JAM Card allows customers with a hidden disability to tell our staff that they need a little extra time.
Accessible Vehicle (Carriage) ID – NaviLens
This is being trialled on three trainsets to assist visually impaired customers to know the carriage ID of the service, to navigate inside the carriage and to report any incidents on-board.
Customer Lift Call
Customer Lift Calls will keep an elevator closed and will only open on request to prevent anti-social behaviour. To access the elevator, the customer is first required to call via the help point located at each landing of the elevator shaft. The request goes to our monitored centre who look at CCTV. The results of installation continue to be very positive with a reduction in the elevators being out of service due to antisocial behaviour.
Changing Places toilets
Our Changing Places toilets have been introduced at Connolly and Heuston stations with plans for three further stations in 2024.
Dementia Working Group Workshops
These are workshops with staff to listen to the issues that customers living with dementia fear and the difference our staff can make to give independence to customers with dementia travelling on our services.
How does Irish Rail plan to ensure that all customers feel confident while travelling with them in the future?
The service that our staff provide to customers with a disability is excellent and widely recognised by our customers in research conducted.
Irish Rail has approximately 3,500 successful customer assistance requests each period. We are planning to promote our accessibility assistance service to customers with disabilities to let them know that there is help there if they require assistance. The service that our staff provide to customers with a disability is excellent and widely recognised by our customers in research conducted. We have recently restructured our organisation to place a greater emphasis on customer experience and this will ensure that the service offered to customers requiring assistance continues to be of a very high standard. Our Onboard Customer Services Officers are having a real impact with all our customers but particularly customers with a disability who give us positive feedback on their experiences. We are also looking at an assistance application which would streamline the assistance process for both customers and staff.
Ronan Murphy has 30 years’ experience working in public transport, with 24 years working with Irish Rail and six years with Dublin Bus. He has a passion for improving the customer experience, particularly the most vulnerable customers and those with a disability. Irish Rail’s key value is putting the customer at the heart of the business and Ronan is proud of the impact he has made and how his team’s input to improvements for customers with disabilities over the past five years.
Have you seen the other exclusive interviews from Global Railway Review with rail accessibility experts?
- VIA Rail’s Senior Advisor – Universal Accessibility, Catherine Langlois – READ NOW!
- TransPennine Express’ Accessibility and Transport Integration Manager, Chris Jeffery – READ NOW!
There will be other interviews over the coming weeks; participants will include DSB, ProRail, Avanti West Coast, Hull Trains, and many more!
If you would like to take part in the Access For All series, or would like to nominate a colleague, please email: Craig Waters, Editor, Global Railway Review.
Passenger Experience/Satisfaction, Passengers With Reduced Mobility (PRM), Real-Time Passenger Information (RTPI), Regulation & Legislation, Safety, Station Developments, The Workforce