On Friday 16 December, I was invited to join Greater Anglia aboard a newly refurbished class 321 trainset. This unit in particular has been internally refreshed to meet the needs of the 21st century customer. Built in the 1980s using the Mk3 bodyshell, there has been very limited redesign of the internal layout… until now.
My own experience has shown me that a clean vehicle can hide a multitude of sins, so I was keen to have a good crawl all over to identify the pitfalls I could – not to shame, instead to seek rectification and improve the new product further. I believe in quick wins, too – usually the simplest improvement can be the cheapest and best.
For me, as a wheelchair user, the door I should was obvious from the traditional blue symbols – what awaited me was anything but traditional. Once on board, I had a choice of turning left into the central saloon, or right to the carriage end and a space beside the lavatory. Let me emphasis that word again a moment: choice.
The space is at the minimum the standard dimensions and is slightly larger in the central saloon. In both cases there are several tip-up seats available, both also with a fold-away table. Yes, you read that correctly – a table. This is invaluable, especially if you get hand shake or need to be able to put your sandwich down a moment. The table would take a seat out of availability and can only be used if the seat is empty. Opposite the wheelchair space beside the toilet is a luggage space, big enough for two large cases or eight small, laid flat. There are seats opposite (proper seats) for friends and family, meaning friends no longer have to give up a tip-up seat for another wheelchair user. There is a choice between sitting next to the toilet or not.
The toilet is a standard loo, with both a toilet bowl and a sink. There is a baby change table and a multitude of signs warning and instructing as to the use of various buttons. The entrance has no lip (and therefore is a level ingress/egress). The buttons are clear and the labeling is due to be improved to be clear that unlocking the door opens it, too. Moving from a train with no loo to this is a huge step forward (or not, as there is no step).
The doors come with audio warnings and buttons at a decent height. The width of the vestibules has expanded by over 6 inches, giving additional space to both wheelchair users and fellow passengers. The grab poles that previously restricted access have been moved closer to the vehicle walls and further apart, giving over a meter of space for wheelchairs to get through.
The seats are now higher off the floor and have a good angle between the seat and back for a comfortable journey. This means it will be easier for an ambulant disabled person to stand from them. There are grab handles at nearly every seat.
All of this means a journey is very possible. A journey can be a very emotional thing for a disabled person, too. By making this easier, with better wheelchair spaces, more priority seats, higher seats – the emotions are positive ones.
This train is not a case of too little, too late. It’s a case of benchmarking what can be achieved, with the life of this train now extended beyond 2020. The re-traction project will only extend that life further.
The question is, who’s going to follow suit and copy this brilliant bit of work? And for Greater Anglia, what is the next good idea?
Photos below – for use please contact me via twitter or a comment.