As part of the European Year of Rail (https://uic.org/year-of-rail/), UIC hosted the Rail Accessibility Day, a one-day online international event, to make the various stakeholders aware of the efforts made and the challenges faced by the railway community to improve accessibility for all.
Under the motto #YesWeCare and #YesRailCares, the aim of the event was to raise awareness of the importance of inclusion for the future of sustainable mobility with rail as the backbone, and with a special focus on supporting the most vulnerable customers, restoring confidence in rail travel for everyone, ensuring a seamless and safe journey for all and using digitalisation to foster autonomy.
The webinar, attended by around 180 participants during the whole day with the intervention of more than 20 high level representatives from various international organisations, institutions, the industry and railway companies, as well as UIC experts, consisted of a round table followed by four panel sessions addressing, among others, the challenges to improve and harmonise accessibility at international level in the railways, sustainability and customer experience, digitalisation and stations. Sign language interpretation (international English) as well as captioning in English was provided throughout the event.
Following a warm welcome by the webinar’s host, UIC Senior Passenger Advisor Vanessa Pérez Miranda, UIC Director General François Davenne gave a keynote speech highlighting the work that has been carried out by UIC and its members within the Passage Working Group – a group of experts in accessibility who have been working for the last 10 years to improve accessibility issues – and the work on the PRM (Passengers with Reduced Mobility) Assistance Booking Tool that provides assistance within international rail trips all along Europe since 2011. He said that UIC is the right forum for developing a holistic approach to this subject, where we can raise awareness on the importance of inclusion, address rail accessibility challenges and develop close collaboration with the relevant actors.
The first Round Table with international associations entitled What are the challenges to improve accessibility in the railways? moderated by UIC Director Europe Simon Fletcher, gave the floor to:
- Keir Fitch, Head of Unit, Rail Safety & Interoperability, European Commission
- François Davenne, UIC Director General, International Association of Railways, UIC
- Bryony Chetwode, European Passenger Federation (EPF) Representative and Secretary General for TravelWatch SouthWest, EPF
- Anne-Laure Le Merre, International Association of Public Transport, UITP
- Blaž Pongračič, Senior Policy Adviser Passenger, Community of European Railways and Infrastructure Companies, CER
- Sandra Dobler, Senior Legal Adviser, International Rail Transport Committee, CIT
- Ellinor Nyberg, Station Expert, European Rail Infrastructure Managers, EIM
The key messages highlighted by the speakers included the need for continuous investment in infrastructure, rolling stock and human resources, providing passengers with certainty and confidence, working together to produce a range of standards and best practice and focusing on system integration changes and implementation.
The First Panel, under the theme International Cooperation and moderated by Vanessa Perez Miranda, Senior Advisor at the UIC Passenger Department and Project Manager of the Passage Accessibility Group of Experts, looked at the work conducted by the Passage Group to improve services that are adapted to the changing needs of customers, the PRM Assistance Booking Tool and the work carried out by the European Disability Forum (EDF) to improve accessibility and the rights of passengers with reduce mobility and with disabilities to travel, as explained by its General Secretary Ms Gunta Anca.
The key messages highlighted during this panel included the importance of this international activities and groups for sharing experience and best practice, what Passage can do to help harmonise services across Europe, to encourage railway companies to fix more objectives with regard to rail accessibility, as well as working together on tailor-made solutions and reinforcing international collaboration in the aim towards harmonisation.
The Second Panel, under the theme Sustainability and Customer Experience and moderated by Lucie Anderton, Head of the UIC Sustainability Unit, looked at accessibility within the context sustainability, the concept of universal design, inclusive mobility and examples of what railways are doing to improve accessibility.
During this panel, Matteo Salandri, legal advisor from the Infrastructure Manager company in Italy (RFI) explained what sustainability actually means and how accessibility can fit into this framework. In her presentation on universal design, UIC Senior Advisor Laura Petersen described the link between the European project Proactive (PReparedness against CBRNE threats through cOmmon Approaches between security praCTItioners and the VulnerablE civil society) and accessibility, disaster risk reduction and security approaches between practitioners and vulnerable civil society. Santiago Fernandez explained the importance of accessibility in the Customer Experience department that he leads in Spanish Railways, Renfe.
The Third Panel on Digitalisation, moderated by Paola Negri, addressed the latest solutions for Passengers with Reduced Mobility (PRM) and with disabilities like Navilens with a focus on applications and tools to improve customer journeys based on passenger needs and expectations with the intervention from accessibility experts from Poland and Belgium.
The panel highlighted the need to improve standardisation across Europe, emphasising that solutions used in public transport should be universal and that inclusion of PRM customers is key, since adding another channel without rebuilding the entire process would not meet customer expectations.
The Fourth Panel on Stations, moderated by UIC Stations Project Manager Clément Gautier, focused on using accessibility data to identify barriers, provide information and evaluate progress on accessibility through the ERA project “Inventory of Assets” with the example of achievements by the Italian enforcement body. The international link with railways around the world was made with the participation of Via Rail Canada (also member of Passage group of experts) with the participation of the company’s CEO, Ms Cynthia Garner (who sent a short video explaining the latest news from Canada regarding Accessibility) and the intervention of Catherine Langlois about the new fleet and improvements in their stations from an accessibility point of view.
In the concluding remarks, Passage Chair Paola Negri gave special thanks to UIC for organising this event and for acting as a forum that is able to bring together all these experiences and views. She also thanked colleagues and operators who have been working on this programme since UIC decided to launch this event.
Vanessa Pérez Miranda thanked all participants for their involvement and stressed that UIC is indeed the right forum to bring everyone together. She reminded the audience that those involved had been working for a long time on this subject but that there is still a great deal to achieve and that hopefully there will be more meetings like this one in the future.
Read Paola Negri’s rail story here: https://uic.org/com/enews/article/interview-with-paola-negri-fighting-for-rail-accessibility