Exemption allows old carriages to stay on line with Greater Anglia – until March
- Credit: Archant
Greater Anglia is one of nine rail operators from across the country that has had to apply to the government for an exemption from the Disability Discrimination Act because some carriages are not compliant with new rules.
These rules came into force at midnight - a deadline written into legislation back in 1995 - but Greater Anglia were not able to comply with them because the company has not yet got its new Stadler Intercity trains into service on the main line between the region and London.
The 45-year-old carriages on the exist trains are not compliant because they don't have automatic wide doors or ramps to the platform.
Greater Anglia is hoping to get its first Stadler train into service very soon, probably during January, and to have the whole fleet of 10 Intercity trains in operation by the end of March when the current exemption runs out.
A spokeswoman for Greater Anglia said: "We have a temporary extension, along with nine other train operating companies, from the Department for Transport to meet new accessibility requirements, recognising that our new trains currently being manufactured will comply with new legislation.
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"We are committed to making our railway more accessible. We have already introduced new trains with gold standard accessibility features on the majority of our rural routes across the network.
"We consulted with disabled rail passengers and professionals on the design of our new trains and ramps.
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"Our Stadler trains have a retractable step at every door which bridges the gap between the train and the platform, giving level access, transforming the experience of customers with mobility issues, who can now board the train independently.
"We are replacing every single train on our network with brand new trains which meet the latest accessibility requirements. We put the order in for these as soon as we were awarded a long-term franchise in October 2016. At the same time, we have also modified many of our old electric trains to improve accessibility features on them."
Rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris "reluctantly agreed" to operators' requests to continue using non-compliant trains into 2020 as removing them from service would have a "disproportionately negative effect".
However James Taylor, head of policy and campaigns at disability equality charity Scope, claimed rail firms have had "more than enough time" to meet the new rules.
Regulations must be properly enforced to "create an incentive for providers to meet deadlines", he added.