"DON’T do anything about us, without us,” wheelchair user Barbara Walker likes to remind policy makers. A wheelchair user since 1974, she has watched the accessibility landscape shift over the past four decades: “Things are a lot better than they were in the 1970s. But they’re not as good as they could be.”

As ScotRail prepares to enter public ownership, now would seem as good a time as any to take stock of the service. Last week, Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth spoke of the April 1 transition: “It’s clear that much work still needs to be done – and in a collaborative way – to best meet the needs of the people we all represent.

“I want to kickstart a national conversation about what our new beginning for ScotRail should look like – an affordable, sustainable, customer-focused rail passenger service.”

Gilruth (below) went on to talk about the importance of women’s safety on public transport, as well as the Scottish Government’s net-zero targets. No direct mention was made of accessibility or people with mobility issues.

The National: SNP transport minister Jenny Gilruth

In the past, ScotRail’s accessible travel policy required users to contact station staff in advance. Jackie Maceira, chairperson of Clyde Shopmobility explains: “I used to get the train from Glasgow to Edinburgh, for work. You were expected to give ScotRail 24 hours’ notice when you were travelling.

“Sometimes I’d turn up and you had to wait for the next train because they hadn’t been ready for you. You get on the train and then they contact the next station and say, ‘I have a passenger in a wheelchair, and he’ll arrive at this station at this time’.”

On multiple occasions, there was no-one at the station, Maceira says. “So you start to panic, you can’t get off the train. I worked next to Haymarket. Quite a few times I ended up in Waverley as there was nobody there to meet me.

“Most of the time, it works – I’m not saying it’s terrible. But if it doesn’t, and you’re meant to be at work …” These days, Maceira takes the car everywhere. “I just don’t trust the system,” he says.

Changing the existing infrastructure of British trains and platforms would be impractical, Maceira admits, with overhauls likely to cost billions. So, what’s being done to improve accessible travel?

Currently, ScotRail offers two options – “book in advance”, which allows users to book at least an hour in advance for journeys within its network, and “turn up and go”, where users can request assistance from station staff. In the absence of staff (increasingly common in stations across the country) users can hope that on-train staff will notice their need for assistance as the train pulls into the station, or use the help point.

Walker says: “In my local station, the waiting room is too narrow for my wheelchair. There’s nowhere to shelter except the bridge over the tracks. So you’re sitting there under the steps, sheltering from the rain, waiting for someone to turn up. I wouldn’t travel on my own now, waiting to see if someone’s actually going to turn up. When you hear nothing, and you’re just marooned there … ”

ScotRail does not currently offer a text or app service to notify users that a staff member is on the way or ready to greet them at the right station. “It makes me feel very vulnerable,” Walker says. “You need that reassurance that it’s going to work. It needs to work 100% of the time or it doesn’t work at all.”

“It would be so nice if they texted you to let you know if they were on their way and that they haven’t forgotten you. Because they do sometimes forget about you.”

The National:

According to ScotRail, a text service is currently being considered as part an industry-wide improvement of the passenger assist system. However, last month, it announced plans to close three ticket offices, as well as reduce the opening hours at 120 of its 140 stations.

“What they’re saying now is that if you phone they’ll have someone there – even if it’s an unmanned station. Something tells me that’s not going to work,” Maceira says.

On February 2, the final day of the ScotRail Ticket Offices Consultation, a trade union, the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association, wrote to the First Minister to appeal for the plans to be scrapped. The letter was co-signed by action groups such as Disabled People Against Cuts and Inclusion Scotland.

The letter states: “We believe ScotRail’s proposals will worsen passenger accessibility and that disabled and elderly passengers will be particularly disadvantaged. Already, disabled people are less likely to use the railways, and these substantial cuts would worsen accessibility by significantly reducing the times that disabled and elderly passengers could guarantee staff will be present at the station.”

“I think at times the Government does listen but I’m getting concerned that access issues are not getting the priority they need,” Maceira says, “It’s a money-saving thing. Instead they need to be thinking, ‘Who is going to be hit by this most?’.”

READ MORE: Union warns ScotRail plans will make railways 'less safe' for passengers

A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: “ScotRail’s public consultation on ticket office opening hours provided passengers with the opportunity to have their say. The minister awaits the consultation findings and further discussion with rail unions before making any final decision on this matter.”

A spokesperson from ScotRail stated: “ScotRail is part of ongoing consultations and meetings with disabled people’s organisations, disabled people, campaigners and wider stakeholders on a regular basis. We have stakeholder equality group meetings every three months. We’re unable to comment on the processes of the new public body as it is not yet in existence, but it is highly unlikely that it will not engage with these groups.”

Phil Campbell, ScotRail’s head of customer operations, said: “We are committed to making the railway open and accessible to all.

“Customers can contact our Assisted Travel team at scotrail.co.uk/accessible-travel and can speak to an advisor by calling 0800 046 1634. ScotRail enables tens of thousands of pre-booked assisted journeys each year and many more spur-of-the-moment trips.”

As the date of the changeover approaches, there must be movement on the issues raised. As Walker says, the accessible travel system has got to consistently operate at 100%. For the people that use these systems regularly, it’s all or nothing.