WHEN most of us head to Northwich station, missing the single hourly service each way is the biggest worry we face.

But imagine if you were unable to even board the train.

This is the problem facing Hannah Rose – along with many others – due to poor access at the 157-year-old station.

While trains to Manchester are accessible from the station entrance, those travelling in the opposite direction depart from the opposite platform – accessed only by steps and a footbridge.

“It’s just frustrating because Northwich is my local station, and I can’t get the train from there,” said Hannah, who has used a wheelchair since 1999 when sudden back pain aged 15 turned out to be an auto-immune disease leading to paralysis from the neck down.

Northwich Guardian:

Hannah Rose

She spent five months in Alder Hey but went on to complete her studies, securing a university degree and a job at Cheshire Police.

She said: “I am lucky that I have got an adapted van and be driven around that way, but if that breaks down I can’t just go to the station and get on a train.

“For people who haven’t got their own transport, what do they do?

“You haven’t got the flexibility – if you wake up one day and want to go shopping there is just no way you can do that. It just puts me off.

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“To be honest, I am surprised that places can still be so inaccessible – it just seems so archaic I just hope that it all changes.”

If wheelchair or pram-users travel into Manchester, their return option is to disembark at Greenbank and catch the next service back to Northwich. On top of requesting assistance on the platform, this means that everyday trips can require meticulous planning.

And Northwich is not alone. Research by disability charity Leonard Cheshire shows that more than a third of station across the UK still do not have step-free access.

At the current rate of improving just 19 stations each year, the government’s ‘Access for All’ aim to resolve the issue by 2030 is set to miss its target by some 40 years.

Northwich Guardian:

Hannah produced a video for Leonard Cheshire disability charity on the issue

Northwich MP Mike Amesbury, who raised the issue in the Commons, is among those pushing for change – along with Northwich Town Council and passenger group the Mid Cheshire Rail Users Association.

In April 2019, the ‘Access for All’ scheme awarded funding to 73 UK stations – including Handforth – to sort out access issues, but 200,000-passenger-a-year Northwich was nowhere to be seen.

Securing the funding would require a full, near-£20,000 business case, which means it may eventually coincide with a full proposal to reinstate the Middlewich branch between Northwich and Sandbach.

Cllr Andrew Cooper, who sits on the town and borough council, said: “Along with Mike Amesbury MP, I’ve been campaigning for improvements in the accessibility for people with prams and for the disabled at Northwich for some time, and this is particularly important to me personally.

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“Given the stage that it is at, I believe the best way to achieve this will be through the improvements to the station that will need to be made anyway in order to re-open the Middlewich.

“Along with Cheshire East and West council, the Local Enterprise Partnership commissioned a strategic outline business case into this re-opening late last year, and we’re expecting that to report in the next couple of months.

“Hopefully this will be a positive outcome and will get us one step closer to getting the improvements at this station that it so desperately needs.”

Leonard Cheshire is campaigning for legislation compelling the government and rail operators to ensure all end-to-end journeys are fully accessible – from ticket purchase through to on-board conditions – within 10 years 2030.

Chief executive Neil Heslop said: “Our current rail network often excludes disabled people from making journeys others take for granted.

“Accessibility issues add unnecessary stress to disabled travellers who negotiate a sub-standard network every day.

“We call on Boris Johnson to prioritise the acceleration of Access for All, so disabled people can enjoy the life opportunities provided through modern, accessible rail travel.”