Lack of help for train passenger in wheelchair ‘unacceptable’ , Minister says

‘Random passenger’ got ramp to help woman who gave train company 24 hours’ notice, Seanad told

Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan has described as unacceptable the failure of an Irish Rail official to turn up to assist a passenger in a wheelchair get off a train despite an arrangement having been made.

Mr Ryan said the incident at Connolly station in Dublin "is a real concern". He was responding to Fianna Fáil Senator Erin McGreehan who highlighted the case of wheelchair user Vicky Matthew who was helped by a "random passenger" who got a ramp to enable her to get off the train, the Louth-based Senator said.

She added that people with disabilities “have to jump through hoops” if they wish to travel and “have to pre-book, plan and make arrangements and be ready to be let down at all times”.

There is no automatic ramp for heavy rail systems and currently someone from Irish Rail sets up a mobile ramp for passengers who make an appointment at least 24 hours in advance, to get on and off trains.


Senator McGreehan said Ms Matthew “had given 24 hours’ notice that she would require ramp and assistance. This lady did everything that she was supposed to do but she was abandoned on the train.”

Ms McGreehan also highlighted in the Seanad this week the case of John Morgan who was prevented from travelling to Wales to visit a relative because the Bus Éireann 100X service from Dundalk was not accessible. He had phoned two weeks in advance and his call was "promptly returned", telling him the bus was not accessible.

The Minister expressed surprise at the Dundalk incident. He said all long-distance coach types require the removal of up to four seats to be accessible and that is why there is a 24-hour notice requirement. “I’m surprised the Dundalk route did not have a coach where seats could be taken out, for whatever reason.”

He added that from 25 years of transport planning and campaigning he knew that “when you design access for all then everyone benefits”.

The situation is “slowly changing” and for all public service obligation regional commuter routes of up to 50 km, new buses are coming that will have low-floor access allowing wheelchair users to board with normal ramp access.

Mr Ryan pointed out that the Luas system was designed as an accessible system with infrastructure that benefits everyone “whether that be a parent with a child in a buggy, someone in a wheelchair or someone who is visually impaired”.

The Minister acknowledged that work remained to be done “particularly on the retrofitting of older legacy infrastructure such as a lot of our Victorian era train stations”.

Funding is in place to upgrade train stations to make them accessible to wheelchair users and the next report of an accessibility consultative committee is due in early December, he added.

Ms McGreehan highlighted the State’s obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Personal with Disabilities which include ensuring equal access to transportation to enable them to “live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life”.

Citizens with disabilities “deserve not to have barriers put in front of them. Almost 15 per cent of the population have some sort of disability and are therefore a huge cohort of our friends and community”.

The Minister agreed that the convention put obligations on the State to ensure transport access in both urban and rural areas.

He said he and his department and agencies are “progressively making public transport accessible”.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times