Travelling on a steam-hauled train is a wonderful and enjoyable experience… or at least it should be!

For most of us the adventure begins when we climb aboard and search for our seats using the customary check list: Have we got a table? Is the window clean? Is there somewhere to stow coats and bags? Are we near the Buffet? And, for those with small children, are we near the toilet?

Yet for some people the adventure isn’t quite so exciting, namely the less-able and/or wheelchair-bound passenger.The current accommodation for wheelchairs on the NYMR consists of designated wheelchair bays located in one end of selected second class ‘open’ carriages. However these vehicles do not have suitable bodyside doors wide enough to enable the loading of wheelchairs. 

Each such vehicle is thus positioned adjacent to a ‘Brake’ vehicle, which has a Guard’s compartment and an adjacent luggage area, which is provided with double doors. Once the wheelchair user is on board, they have to navigate through the corridor gangway into the next carriage, then pass through a further doorway in the vestibule partition in order to gain access to the wheelchair dedicated accommodation.

Typically we are limited to two wheelchair users per train, and there are times when disabled passengers have had to suffer the indignity of being hidden away from the rest of the passengers, usually in the unheated and austere luggage area if there is no other way of transporting them. In some cases when the wheelchair user is part of a larger family group, they sometimes get separated from their party owing to a lack of somewhere on board where they can sit together.

The issue is often further exacerbated during busy periods when the Guard’s compartment fills up with prams, pushchairs and buggies, all of which seem to be getting larger.

Consequently it is necessary to provide a greater degree of accessibility without detracting from the heritage aspects of the trains that are our bread and butter.

Although we operate a 19th Century railway using 20th Century locomotives and rolling stock, it is becoming increasingly unacceptable here in the 21st Century for those with mobility problems to be conveyed in these conditions.

Creating a Solution

The answer that we have come up with is what we have termed ‘Fuss-free Access’, in which every carriage set in service contains one vehicle that has been specially adapted to ease access for everyone with mobility problems and accommodate them with their friends and family.

The notion is not a new one; the narrow gauge Talyllyn Railway created three wheelchair-accessible observation saloons during the 1990s/early 2000s.

Consequently a small team has been looking at what the other heritage railways have been doing to address the issue, and in doing so have visited the East Lancashire Railway, the Severn Valley Railway, the Lakeside & Haverthwaite Railway, and others. Having pulled all of the research together, the team came back and developed an action plan; what we feel is the best course of action. In order to provide a ‘Fuss-free Access’

carriage to each of our services, we need to convert three BR Mk1 TSOs (Tourist Second Open) and an LNER Teak TO (Third Open). With the converted BG (Brake Gangwayed) M80509, which was converted to ‘Fuss-free’ some years ago, this will give us five such vehicles.The exact vehicles that will be converted have yet to be finalised.

The proposal is to convert a significant area (nearly half of the vehicle) to be fully accessible for wheelchair users, including a wheelchair accessible toilet. Entry to the vehicle will be via double doors giving access directly into the accommodation, thereby eliminating the need to fit through narrow, corridor gangways.The space available is comparable with the capacity of a minibus adapted to carry a quantity of wheelchairs, thereby facilitating the possibility of a group outing with a ride on the NYMR.

The Next Step

We now need to draw up plans with a design consultant, based on the best of what we have seen on the other heritage lines. Our design consultant will do the necessary engineering research and calculations before submission to the Institute of Rail Research and finally the Rolling Stock Library for acceptance and the registration necessary for running on Network Rail to Whitby. Our plans will also be shown to disability groups for their comments and feedback.

When the design and consultation process is complete, the individual vehicles identified will need to be inspected and a schedule of work drawn up.With all this information together we will tender to outside engineering contractors and a shortlist of six suitable firms have been identified.

In order to meet our tight deadline for Stage 2 in the HLF Bidding Process, we need to get firm’s quotes together quickly, choose the best contractor to satisfy our requirements for a 1st class finish, and include their quotations in our Stage 2 bid.

Construction is due for completion-ready by the new 2020 season, when, with your help, we will be able to offer an improved experience for all our passengers over the North York Moors - Yorkshire’s Magnificent Journey!


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