How can train stations be made safer for the visually impaired?

Navigating a busy train station can be challenging especially during rush hour, a recent study has revealed that a shockingly high 50% of UK mainline train stations are missing the correct warning equipment to help blind or visually impaired passengers easily navigate their way around. This alarming statistic has led to calls to make stations safer for those with sight challenges.

The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) highlighted a report from the Rail Accident Investigation Branch which found that up to 15% of people who fall from railway platforms have some form of sight loss, with a lack of tactile paving noted as one of the biggest causes. It also concluded that blind and partially sighted people are exposed to “significantly higher levels of risk than the general public” when travelling through train stations.

With more than 2 million people in the UK living with sight loss, including around 340,000 registered as blind or partially sighted, the threat of injury is very real. Cleveland Gervais is a tragic example of the hidden dangers at train stations. The 53-year-old tragically fell from a platform and died at Eden Park station in south London in 2020. A subsequent investigation found that the 53-year-old “was unaware that he was close to the platform edge because there were no markings to assist visually impaired people.”

Sadly, this tragic incident at Eden Park is not unique. The same investigation states that around half of all mainline stations in the UK are also “not equipped with this valuable aid to the visually impaired.”

While an inquest ruled the death of Cleveland Gervais was an accident, it also concluded that a lack of tactile paving at the edge of the platform contributed “more than minimally”. RNIB chief executive Matt Stringer stated the death “was not an isolated incident,” and that it provided “an opportunity for essential lessons to be learned so that such a senseless tragedy never happens again.” Mr Stringer added: “There should be no train platforms without tactile paving.”

Some of the challenges faced by blind and visually impaired pedestrians at train stations include:

  • Lack of tactile pavers on platform edges.
  • Wide gaps between platforms and trains.
  • Pillars, stairs, and other obstacles located on tactile pavers.
  • Insufficient horizontal pavers indicating the inner side of the platform.

Moves to make stations safer are rapidly gathering support, and safety expert GripClad states there are many ways to make stations easier for the blind and visually impaired to navigate, including:

  • Anti-Slip Stair Tread Covers: Easy to install and safe for those with visual impairments, commonly used in public places with high footfall such as train stations.
  • Anti-Slip Stair Nosings: A quick method to improve safety, stair nosings reduce the slip risk and visibility challenges associated with dark stairs.
  • Anti-Slip Grating: Superior slip resistance can be achieved at railway stations with GRP grating, easily installed on bridges and walkways.

Understanding the various challenges encountered by visually impaired people at train stations is half the battle of train station safety, stations can also be hazardous places for people with full vision too.

The Government’s Office of Rail and Road (ORR) revealed in its Rail Safety Report 2021 that slips, trips, and falls were the major cause of mainline severe injuries in 2020-21 for both rail workers and members of the public. Network Rail added further clarity by suggesting most slips, trips, and falls occur on stairs or escalators “because people are rushing or carrying heavy luggage.”

The numbers show that more must be done to make train stations safer for everyone, especially those who are blind and visually impaired, ensuring that train stations place the highest priority on improving areas where slips, trips, and falls can occur.

To make certain that those tragic incidents become a thing of the past, it’s key for railways to install the latest ant-slip safety measures on stairs, bridges, and walkways to reduce the chance of accidents, and help all railway passengers safely navigate their way through train stations for many years to come.

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