Many years ago shortly after I was selected as the Lib Dems to be their candidate in the Wirral Council election, a woman living near Birkenhead Park station emailed me in response to one of our leaflets.
She was the foster carer for a teenager in a wheelchair and had great difficulty with the stepped ramp at Birkenhead Park station. This station has (as many who will use it will know) a stepped ramp going down to the platform.
She had no difficulty in as she put it “bumping him down the ramp” but found it impossible to get him back up. As a result she was travelling to Conway Park train station (which has a lift) and wheeling him back a mile through the streets over bumpy pavements (which was very tiring for her).
As a result I wrote to Merseytravel and lobbied them (and Frank Field) my MP to improve access at the train stations. Access for disabled people to stations was also an issue raised at an Area Forum in relation to stations on the Chester/Ellesmere Port route.
The current policy of Merseyrail (and Merseytravel) is to provide taxis for disabled travellers from the nearest accessible station. The Roads v Central Trains Limited  EWCA Civ 1541, (2004) 104 ConLR 62 case (which being a Court of Appeal case) was about exactly this issue and is binding on any case brought by a disabled person in the County Court.
In it a disabled traveller couldn’t use a station because of a footbridge. He was put to inconvenience (compared to his non-disabled travellers) in travelling to a nearby station and getting a taxi. Doing this added an hour to his journey. Like Merseytravel the train company claimed it’d cost £750,000 to adapt the station.
Appeal judges found the claimant had been discriminated against and overturned the ruling of the lower court, awarding £1,000 in damages and special damages of £97.
However there is a problem with the law and Merseyrail (which makes ~£6,000,000 in profit a year). Both Merseyrail and Merseytravel (at least due to what they’ve said in public and correspondence) see access to stations as a National Rail issue.
After British Rail was privatised the different areas were either put out to tender (eg the rail franchises for example Merseyrail, Virgin, Arriva Train Wales etc) or a separate company was set up. National Rail is the successor to Rail Track and is responsible for the track, signalling, infrastructure, stations etc.
Although the money for improving station access goes to Merseytravel, they complain that Network Rail causes them (as they see it) increased costs due to bureaucracy.
I raised with Merseytravel the issue that all stations within Bidston & St. James ward – Bidston, Birkenhead North and Birkenhead Park as well as the nearby station of Upton all had problems with accessibility.
I am pleased to announce that as a result of my lobbying (and others) money in this financial year has been set aside for improvements to Birkenhead North station.
In total approximately £1.6 million will be spent on a Park and Ride scheme (which is why the properties were pulled down) and on making the footbridge accessible.
Once again this shows that where people come to the Liberal Democrat Action Team with their problems, we take action and improve things for local residents.
In the meantime, the paint on the footbridge is peeling (which I doubt will be done before it’s replaced) and when I have more news about when the work will begin I will give an update.
I would like to thank Cllr Dave Mitchell, the Liberal Democrat Merseytravel representative for his help on this issue. The late Tony Garrett of the Wirral Transport Users Association was a passionate advocate for public transport and wanted these improvements made to stations on the Wirral. He even toured each Area Forum asking questions.
Although it may be some time before all stations in Bidston & St. James can be used by those with mobility problems, the news on Birkenhead North train station is a welcome step in the right direction.