In December 1999, the Disability Rights Task Force published its report "From Exclusion to Inclusion" which included the recommendation that an end date by which all passenger rail vehicles should comply with rail access regulations should be introduced following consultation. Also, that access regulations should be introduced to apply to the refurbishment of existing rolling stock.
The Government accepted the Task Force's recommendations and instigated a review of the issues relating to both the choice of an end date and the refurbishment of existing non-compliant rail vehicles.
The objectives of the review were:
- To examine the implications of requiring full compliance with the Rail Vehicle Access Regulations (made under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995) for a range of dates up to 2035; and
- To consider the different ways in which access improvements could be made to existing (non-compliant) stock before the date for full compliance.
The review assessed the costs of the various options and the benefits that could arise in terms of increased rail travel by disabled people.
Assessment of the costs of specific improvements to rail vehicles was made, based on earlier research (carried out by Interfleet Technology in 2001) together with detailed consultation with Train Operating Companies, including London Underground, and the Strategic Rail Authority.
The initial report was circulated for comment to the companies involved in the rail industry and to other organisations with an interest in this issue, including the Disability Rights Commission. Following the consultation process the Review was amended to take into account the views expressed by the consultees and a final version was sent out for consultation in 2005.
It was essential to involve the rail industry in the study, both to ensure that the assessments of costs for the various options were as accurate as possible and to determine the feasibility of carrying out the required modifications to rail vehicles within the range of time scales. Equally it was essential to take account of the reasonable expectations of disabled people in terms of their ability to make use of rail services.
Following the consultation process and further analysis of the cost implications of the various options (see below) it was concluded that the appropriate end date for full compliance of the rail rolling stock with the requirements of the regulations made under the Disability Discrimination legislation would be 1st January 2020. It was further concluded that, with regard to the intermediate improvements to existing non-compliant stock, the "menu" approach should be adopted.
The accessibility requirements of the Rail Vehicle Access Regulations mean significant design changes in rolling stock compared with the design standards of older (pre-regulations) stock. It is not difficult technically to build new stock that is compliant with the regulations: the difficulties arise with older non-compliant stock that still has a considerable operational life remaining.
While the modifications required to make older rolling stock compliant are (generally) technically possible, the cost implications can be very substantial.
The extent to which such modifications are made is dependant on both the end date for full compliance and the process and timing of the refurbishment.
In the first review five options for the end date of full compliance were considered: 2035, 2030, 2025 and 2020 and earlier compliance - say 2015. The initial recommendation made was for the end date to be 1st January 2026.
Three options were considered for the interim improvements to existing non-compliant vehicles. These were:
- To require all these improvements to be made by a given date;
- To specify that the modifications should be made at the half life refurbishment; and
- To adopt what was termed the menu approach which would relate the required improvement to the refurbishment that is done under normal maintenance programmes.
It was recommended that the menu approach should be used.
The choice of 1st January 2026 as the date for full compliance was based mainly on cost implication. By that date only some 560 non-compliant vehicles would still be in operation with a cost for modification to meet the regulations estimated at about £38 million. If the 2020 date were used there would be over 2200 non-compliant vehicles with a modification cost of over £170 million. Requiring compliance earlier than 2020, aside from additional costs was not considered to be feasible in terms of engineering capacity. Adopting a later date than 2025/6 would reduce compliance cost (they would be zero by 2035) but such a delay was not thought appropriate for disabled people.
It was considered that making interim improvements by specified dates would cause problems because some modifications that are relatively straightforward in some vehicles are not in others. Also, depending on the date chosen, it might cause modifications to be made outside planned refurbishment times, with con
Creating a rail system that can be used safely and conveniently by disabled people is clearly important. The original Rail Vehicle Access Regulations, though they specified the necessary design standards, did not include a date by which all rail passenger vehicles should comply with these requirements. Where the vehicles concerned have a long operational life - conventionally 30 years in the case of rail stock - the absence of an end date would mean an unacceptably long time before the rail system is fully accessible for disabled people.
As the cost figures mentioned above show, there is a trade-off between an early compliance date and the costs to the rail industry. If the earliest date considered had been used, the costs to the industry would have been just over twice those for a 2020 end date. Delaying the end date by five years would have reduced the costs considerably, but the additional delay to the creation of a fully accessible rail system was not considered acceptable. As with much of the work needed to enable disabled people to travel easily, there has to be a balance between their reasonable expectations, technical feasibility and costs.