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Llanfair Line celebrates Disability First project

 
Created on 01/08/2019 @ 09:27
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A celebration at the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway’s Llanfair Caereinion station on Sunday (28th July) marked the successful completion of the line’s ‘Disability First’ project, a major investment that has helped open up our popular tourist attraction to less-able visitors.

In early 2016, the W&LLR was awarded £42,500 as part of the £1 million Heritage and Community Rail Tourism Innovation competition, run by the Challenge Fund of the Department for Transport and the Rail Safety & Standards Board (RSSB).

The railway’s Disability First project aimed to improve access to trains for wheelchair-bound passengers – at the time the restricted dimensions of the narrow-gauge rolling stock and the use of wheelchair ramps meant that only manual wheelchairs could be accepted on trains.

The funding firstly allowed the W&LLR to invest in two specialist wheelchair lifts, which were based at its two terminal stations and immediately proved both more comfortable for visitors to use and easier and safer for the railway’s volunteer train crews to operate.    

Phase two of the project, expertly managed by W&LLR member Philip Crook, saw the line’s two former Hungarian State Railways ‘MAV’ bogie carriages sent for modifications at specialist Rampart Engineering, in Barrow Hill near Chesterfield.

Each carriage had one of its end balconies extended to allow access to the larger wheelchairs now used by most people with mobility issues. The doors and internal layout of the carriages were also changed, the former fixed seating replaced by tip-up versions.

“The new seats allow total flexibility which was an important part of the project,” said W&LLR general manager Charles Spencer. “We want our less-able travellers to enjoy a fully inclusive journey, not segregated into their own compartment.”

The two carriages were also repainted with funding from W&LLR resources, while the grant also covered the building of accommodation for the wheelchair lifts when not in use, and advertising and media coverage in publications catering specially for the disabled audience.

One of the modified carriages went into service in 2018 and the other joined it in time for the start of the 2019 season.

The W&LLR has since seen a significant increase in the number of people visiting who would not otherwise have been able to travel.

“It has not just been wheelchair users who have welcomed the changes,” said Charles. “Many less able-bodied visitors, those using walkers or canes for example and who otherwise would struggle with the carriage steps, have been able to stand on the lifts and rise to carriage level in safety and comfort.”

At Llanfair, on Sunday, the official conclusion of the project was marked by the High Sheriff of Powys, David Lloyd Peate, cutting a symbolic barrier ribbon across the entrance to one of the carriages.

“This project is already a huge success,” Mr Peate said. “I have seen the smiles and delight on the faces of those who have already used the lifts, including the families of wheelchair users as they are being elevated onto the carriages.

“This has been a big investment for the W&LLR which will open up new experiences for so many people, and I congratulate the railway for taking the initiative.” 

Charles Spencer paid tribute to the W&LLR members who ensured the project went ahead, including the line’s appeals director Iain McLean who made the successful grant application, and Philip Crook who oversaw the design and modification of the carriages.

“This was a project properly managed and delivered to plan – it will enable more visitors to travel in comfort with us, which we are delighted about, while the railway will also benefit as a result,” Charles added.

Anyone requiring more information on the W&LLR’s facilities for less-able visitors can read the railway’s Access Statement on the website, www.wllr.org.uk, email info@wllr.org.uk or call 01938 810441. 

The railway is currently in its peak season, running every day until the end of August and in September on every day except Monday and Friday.

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