The history of design thesis

Testing a wheelchair spaceEverything we do becomes history, however significant might be to ourselves or to each other – a legacy, if you will. I’ve had several opportunities in my work to do this in the past through partnerships that we have. One particular partnership is with a rail operator. I received an email in December from a colleague I’ll call Sheila.

The email asked the following:

  • Do I have a passport?
  • Do I fly?

If the answer was yes, then I was to phone my colleague immediately. I did so and after establishing that 29 seconds from clicking send is immediately, I was invited to travel to Switzerland with the company to help with the design input of the new trains for a franchise. I wasn’t to be alone – a colleague with sensory needs had also been invited. The brief was clear – to look at the proposals for people with mobility and sensory needs to identify if they are appropriate. We were invited look for any improvements that can be made to further offer a better experience to customers. Our lived and professional experiences were key to our visit, to assist with the design proposals and offer our constructive thoughts.

A FLIRT train in Konstanz, GermanyThe new trains, which are of a new type to the UK, are made by Stadler and will be in service for the next 20-30 years. The trains (called FLIRT) are commonplace in Europe and now are coming to the UK. The new trains will have 3 different applications – airport, intercity and regional. The airport and intercity stock share one design and the regional trains another.

Arriving at the factory in Bussnang in the morning, we were introduced to the rolling stock types, which will be for the intercity, airport and regional trains. There are two types of wheelchair area, with the intercity and airport trains able to carry three wheelchair users in their chairs and the bi-mode regional trains carrying two wheelchair users. A mock up had been prepared (as the body shells are shortly to enter build phase), which was able to simulate the carriages and their internal layout differences.

There are some crucial differences due to the body alone. The train is “low floor”, which means that in the majority of cases the step may be as low as 100mm. This might also mean a step down. Stadler were able to simulate the different platform heights to identify the challenges of using a ramp from different heights and different degrees of incline. We discussed the elements of ingress and egress – the fact that the body has a sliding step is a new element that brings benefits. The carriage, with a lower floor, has a more pronounced curve in the lower part of the side of the body wall (to accommodate for passing through stations at speed). This means that the buttons at a metre from the floor can be reached by leaning forward.

The train, with its low floor design, is likely to not even require a ramp in some locations. It brings the possibility that completely independent travel could be closer than we realise – no ramp required. The design in place also looks to enable easier communication between on board staff and the customer.

Sat on the toilet lid making notesAt both the mock up and the meeting table, we utilised train plans to identify how wheelchair users may travel and discussed about the need for small tables, capable of holding a coffee. We went through how information may be displayed to the customers and issues conveyed through automated announcements, visual information and manual announcements. Colour contrast, toilet doors and call-for-aid buttons were discussed at length, identifying how small changes can make big differences. We discussed about how wheelchair users may transfer to a toilet (yes, there are two options now – side transfer or facing). What happens if a person falls off the toilet? What about washing your hands? Flushing the toilet? Forgetting to lock the door? Nothing was left out.

With the regional trains, we identified how small and large changes offer a completely different experience to a person travelling. We looked at how the position of priority seats and wheelchair spaces then led to other (non-disability) elements to be considered, giving an improved experience for customers without mobility issues. Suggesting one change meant that wooden panels were produced, measured, marked and used to show that the theory behind suggestions were possible. We discussed tip up seats, traveling with family, traveling alone, the need for people to have choice for their journey (which, to the credit of all involved, had already been considered). The accessible toilet now sits away from the wheelchair user on the opposite side of the vestibule door from the wheelchair spaces, for example. On intercity services, the buffet is within eye sight. 240v and USB power plugs will be available.

All the while, my colleague with a sensory need was giving her own feedback and input, feeding back about how she may undertake a journey, how her guide dog would be involved in her travel needs and how she would identify a priority seat. We looked at the internal colours in use and how these could affect a person with visual requirements. Audio and Visual displays were shown and positions noted to make it easy for a customer to find what they need to know. Automated announcements and visual announcements will help people who have hearing impairments.

I’m covering all this in a short space with no intention of discredit or not mentioning anything. Rail professionals were listening, writing, measuring to achieve the suggestions . I was impressed at the seriousness that they were showing in looking to gather all of the data and identify that they had interpreted our thoughts and ideas correctly. Action lists were drawn up immediately and signed off at the end of the day. At no point did it ever feel like “lip service” either – we are professionals with experience and the teams wanted to learn.

The outcome is that today we wrote history. A train interior was designed with people who are going to use it for the next 20 years. We were given the opportunity to have a positive impact on a project and I truly hope that we delivered. None of this would have been possible if it wasn’t for the partnership that I have through my work with the train service provider and my thanks must go to them for the opportunity. My gratitude cannot be measured.

I look forward to the delivery in the next few years. I’ll be proud to look at the train and know that I’ve had that smallest of hands in a huge and significant project.

How I survived a 3 floor fall

It is pretty scary, I can assure you. 3 Floors is a lot to fall, especially to very hard floor.

Granted, its my choice but good grief, if I looked down once more vertigo will have got me in its ugly grasp and made me think twice about this choice I had only made 20 minutes before, sat down on the main ground floor of the attrium.

My co-workers are watching on by this point, flabergasted that I am by now crawling under the barriers and edging towards the edge. Thing is, they could see The Drop.

It would have been fair to say an element of fear was creeping in now, as I positioned myself on the edge, easing myself forward… Reminding myself not..

… To look …

… Down.

I knew I couldn’t back out, not for the riddicule from co-workers, which would be on good jest, but for me. I knew I could do this. I know I would only regret it if I backed out, my mind playing what-ifs for the rest of the week… During all of which I am ignoring the niggling voice of fear in the back of my head and making sure I don’t look down, taking a breath and.. And..

And taking a leap of faith and jumping off – knowing the rope would hold me and that the instructor would lower me – colleagues cheering as I descend 3 floors abseilling to the bottom, like everyone else before me, a moment of adrenaline, seeing the world in a slightly different way.

I jumped over the edge of the attrium and lived to tell the tale. That is what I did on my Friday Lunch Time.

What did you do?

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I’m going to describe this run… In only the way I can.

I start on the train. Brake click twice. Tuck bag straps. Sleeves tight, taut. Nothing should be available to be snagged, nature or street furniture or chair. Deep breath. Those doors are going to open in a moment and people who surround me will stream out, not that I notice numbers. Ramp down, greet colleague, left right Lift (reverse in). Descend whilst ensuring music is adequate – Deadmou5 ‘Strobe’ is good. Out and forward 5 metres, left and up ramp, drop speed to 4, forward 3 m, left onto concourse, where the flooring changes to a polished tile that in the wet can cost you vital acceleration and braking distance, as you not so much approach as power towards the barrier, praying for an opening that means as you hit the top of the ramp the jump down the other side takes you up to 7, out and onto the small plaza where people congregate, unaware of the thoroughfare that they impede onto, nor worried about where they flick their cigarette ash. Forward right, skirt right of the tree, aim to head on over the drainage paving and down to the zebra crossing, slow to 2, right, over at 3, left, down past Dominos Pizza to where they queue for a cash point, the pavement narrows but it doesn’t stop them walking two abreast and head on towards me… Which brings me down to the right bend, cruise at 5, run the brake, hard left at the pelican, wait for the Green man, straight across and right, not diagonal else I can’t get onto the pavement… Down now, the big straight. Paving slabs should guide people straight but they meander, unaware as they flick their cigarette ash at hip level of my presence or velocity as I move round them…
I was always trained to move around slow moving traffic, pavement too, but people still panic and wobble about.
Clear morning makes this section a joy, past the first lamp post hitting 6, by the second the pavement dips slightly, accelerate hitting 9, follow the rise out, accelerate hard and roll, guiding the motion now, gentle application of the brakes, bend left at 5, through the bollards, over the carpark exit at 3, jump up the kerb and cruise, maintaining the speed to the doors, entering and taking the lift, speed now limited to 3 for the internal journey to my desk.
Its taken 30 minutes to write about this, the technicalities difficult to express, as I am not paying attention to my speeds, instead acutely aware of those behind, those in front and to the sides, aware of those who give way and must remember to thank, because I will repeat this 3 minute 47 second experience again tomorrow.
And I’ll just hope that the conditions will be right for another perfect run, that walk to work.

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McNulty report and me: What does it mean?

So much has been said about McNulty, but much of it appears high level – and frankly, too long, dull and complicated to make any sense.  Or is it?  The summary is 77 pages long and features very few pictures (something that means I can’t read it to the children as a bedtime story) but there are some important items in there.  I’ve focused on two of them here.

Starting at the obvious:

This is a plan A – and plan B would be to close lines

Worryingly, the lines at risk of closure are rural lines that support disabled people in travelling to areas that are not served well by bus.  But there is a bigger impact – it means that journeys that are made on core routes – the main lines – won’t take place if the journey continuation on a rural line can’t take place.  Social cost would be astronomical and the environmental cost would be huge with additional vehicles on the road to replace those rail journeys.

But there’s something else that leapt out at me:

All trains should be DOO – Driver Only Operation

First of all, what happens to all those guards?  I’ll let the unions go nuts over that suggestion.  But also – what happens when a disabled person is on a train and needs to get off? What happens when they need assistance?  Has he thought this through?  I doubt it.  This will affect some services within London where guards are rare, but in more rural areas, where platforms curve and tickets need to be sold on train, this will be a huge problem.

I’m writing something at the moment about the full response – but these are two issues that have stood out.

So – this has to be the only plan but mustn’t be closed to consultation and closed discussion with those that it will affect – the customers.  Because ultimately, this will impact on people who pay for the railways in the first place.

Monday morning syndrome

I fear it got me.  That dreaded feel of a lurgy that is not quite a bacterial infection waiting to happen nor was it a veisalgia.  I refer to the feeling of this morning using the words of Terry Pratchett:

I was hung under.

The normal cure process begins with a Sausage sandwich, which appeared around midday courtesy the restaurant upstairs – something I needed.  By the way, if you are a vegetarian who works in the same organisation as I do and you like sausages, they have quorn ones upstairs now.  Not sure on prices.

So, sausage sandwich with ketchup and mustard down my throat, I was prepared for this afternoons meeting (which went well).  I enjoyed catching up with friends (which reminds me that I need to invite someone to an event in June on Facebook) and was glad that the building didn’t go up in smoke.  Actually, I think I need to expand on that:

In event of a fire, you should proceed out the door you came in through, turn left and follow my colleague Bruce* out to safety.  Do not under any circumstances follow me, as I go to a refuge area to get rather warm.

Declan* said that it should be minuted that the meeting thanked me for my sterling efforts and it was nice knowing me.

Got home and made a cracking curry with MBW, who is about to go on Nil By Mouth for a minor procedure on Weds.  Poor princess.

I’m now drinking beer so that I can have a veisalgia in the morning… only a slight one, though.

Oh, my day was made when I hear my blog entry on the bus lift was read out at a conference in London.  Woo!

*name policy – click the link above.

The Electro-Traction Motion

Today has been a rather busy day, warranting two blog entries.  I have been out and about today for work with National Express East Anglia.  In fact, the journey itself was something interesting…

We have very few express services in Essex but one of them is the X30.  It is an accessible coach with Wifi (when it works).  I know that the X30 is not always accessible – but its worth a shot turning up, and today I had company in the form of Sheila from National Express*.  I pre-warned First I was planning on travelling so you can imagine my surprise that when the coach turned up, there was already a wheelchair user onboard!  I was more than happy to transfer and the coach driver was more than happy to stow my chair.

Magic Wheelchair LiftThe lift onboard is something to behold.  It is stowed beneath the steps and extends out.  Whilst the lift comes out, the landing between the steps and the cabin lifts up to meet the cabin level.  The lift handles extend automatically in a ballet of automation – truely something amazing and unexpected.  You can see in the image where the floor is lifting beside the drivers seat (click the image, nothing will break).

LiftSo, on I got, off Sheila and I went to Stansted.  It was quick, it was comfortable and we arrived and I was offloaded with a bit more dignity than I used to have with coaches. I liked this experience – different to say the least.  But it leads me to a thought – why can’t we do this on trains?  Technical fact of the wheels aside, why aren’t we considering this for one of the most popular forms of public transport?  Worth asking.

The new trains

RampThis was good fun too.  I had been invited with some colleagues from Essex to look around the new class 379s and to see some training for platform and on-board staff around the trains, looking at how they train staff in deploying the ramp, assisting passengers in emergancies etc.  It was very interesting to see how the training is carried out in situ.  I’ve put some photos up online at my gallery – the ones in the locked file feature people and is for NXEA use only.

I was very impressed that the wheelchair area allocated (two spaces, as per DDA) is actually quite spacious.  It has two seats opposite one space, a single seat opposite the other.  I’m kicking myself because I didn’t get enough photos of the space as I wanted photos of the details.  D’oh.

Sadly, there is one small thought about the contrasts between floor and seat, floor and grab rails.  It’s not enough, which is a shame – because this train is possibly one of the best layouts I’ve experienced yet onboard a train.  The other gripe is the huge lip on the toilet door – its about 2/3 of an inch and quite big for a ‘lip’.  But otherwise a superb new train – something I hope to travel on again in the future.

So – there we go – a busy day.  I rode back on a 379 into Liverpool Street – they are smooth and quiet, very much the sort of train you’d hope to have on your local line… maybe in the next cascade?


*Sheila is not her real name, but I don’t like to use real names unless I have permission and since I don’t have her permission yet… boys, by the way, are called Bruce.  You have to be slightly older to get the joke.


The Car

The Car - at the start of snow

So, this week, it has mostly been snowing.  Snow means two things when you use a wheelchair – its hard to go out and if you do go out you get stuck.  So I’ve not bothered and have been working from home.

Working from home is interesting – if you can ignore noise and distractions – perfect – which can work 90% of the time.  Sadly, there will be occassions when this happens but for the most part I can get along with it.

Not today.  A little Monkey has been a little busy…

Monkey rolls a large snowball

Monkey rolls a large snowball


Yes, that’s right – making a snowman.  She had great fun out there with MBW… they made something pretty special:

Monkey hugs the Snowman

Monkey hugs the snowman

Snowday – in a nutshell…


Apologies for the lack of updates – due in the most part to Nuzzle and Scratch keeping us up at night.  Good news is that we have some bunk beds coming next week though.

MBW had her birthday which was a success.  My Dad came to visit and babysat the girls so that we could have  a meal out together and MBW was surprised by the massage and my annual leave.  Monkey was made up to see her Dad-Dad again and we have a lovely swim – all of us – which really gave us all a chance to chill out with each child able to have some one on one time with no time constraints.

In other news, we won a UK bus award at work for the ECC Try a Bus Days and Access Braintree Projects which is exciting, and I have just won an award for an article for a trade association – ATCO –  magazine.  I’ll pop it online shortly.  It’s quite humbling to be recognised in this way – it was something I wrote literally in the hope of provoking one persons thoughts.  I feel very honoured to recieve something as high profile of this nature.

That’s all for now – time for bed in a moment, said Zebedee…


Principles of Project Management: Chapter 1

Part of the Principles of Project Management is understanding how Projects fit into line with the programme, and how following simple principles and processes can actually implement into your every day life… even if it does make you appear a complete sad act.

Every project has someone who is ultimately responsible.  The Executive.  The person who is going to take the flack if something goes wrong, and that something is the project failing.  They are joined on the board by two others – Senior User and Senior Supplier.  But how is this defined, how do you decided who they are?

Users are those that are the end user.  They will decide what they want.  You don’t have all of them on the board – they’re represented.  They tell the representative what they want through focus and stakeholder groups.  The person who represents them all: – the Senior User. They are internal to the company.  The things they want – it has to be descriptive but to a point – too deep a de

Suppliers don’t have to be internal or external.  They are essentially going to be supplying the solution.  If it’s an IT project, it can be your IT department, it can be a contractor.  I’ll draw up a scenario in a moment.

And then you have the project manager.  The project manager should not be from the supplier.  Why? Because they have  a conflict of interests.  The project manager must ensure Quality as an outcome within the costs.

So, quick example:

We need to go to shopping.  MBW has made an executive decision.  I have users – the family – who want food in the house.  They have drawn up a list of requirements – the shopping list.  I have a provider (Saincosons).  I have been assigned the role of project manager.

Now, why is it important that Saincosons are not the project manager?  Because they will go around and pick the most expensive products.  I’m not saying that it’s true to real life and is no way a slur on Saincosons – this is just the fact of most suppliers – its maximum profit.  Heck – I’d do the same.  But – I have a list.  Now, my end users stipulated they want Heinz beans.  What if the cost of a can is £1, but Saincosons own brand is 50p.  Now, typically, if it’s my budget, then it’s my decision as to which can I buy.  But – in a project the users have said they want high quality beans, the executive has agreed the budget… as a project manager, you don’t have an authority to change the requirements.

And then when I get home, the outcome is checked – did I get everything I was asked for.  This is called Quality Assurance.  Does it meet the requirements?  Does it meet the budget?

If yes – successful outcome.  If not – what lessons do I learn?

This is the basics of project management.  Tomorrow I might discuss the Principles, the Processes and the Themes.  Job done.

A week termination white paper

I’ve started typing this whilst I’m actually doing some reading around a course I am on next week – so there might be a some terminology slipped in.  Be vigilant – there could even be a test later.  I am going to be attending the PRINCE2 course.  The planned outcome is that I will be a certified PRINCE2 practitioner, which will be helpful.

This week has been difficult with the the girls all failing to reach Performance Targets – i.e. to sleep through the night.  Teething is to blame, a risk flagged up at the beginning and despite best planning, the risk is always doubled with Nuzzle and Scratch.    But we are hopefully beginning to plateau with Scratch at least…

I also acquired a bonus into my day – a  CD of various tunes mixed by Timo Maas.

Now for the quiz:

Which words above are offical terms in the Prince2 course… comments please!