SEVEN years ago when Terry Mulder was in Opposition he criticised the lack of wheelchair accessible rail carriages on the Warrnambool line.
Now, as Victorian Transport Minister, little has changed.
Wheelchair-bound passengers mostly still have to take taxis because there aren’t enough suitable carriages to accommodate motorised chairs — most of the appropriate carriages are undergoing refurbishment.
And passengers fortunate enough to get a train with a suitable carriage find the toilet compartment is too narrow to enter.
In broad terms disability access has deteriorated in the past decade.
In 2002 former private operator West Coast Railway introduced refurbished carriages which were applauded by passengers interviewed by The Standard at the time.
Wider doorways, aisles and toilets were features of the redesign.
However, the operator ceased in 2004 and the carriages taken out of service.
The issue was highlighted again last week when a key disability advocate was late for a Warrnambool conference after being unable to get on to the train, then having to wait at Geelong for a suitable taxi.
Keran Howe, executive director of Women with Disabilities Victoria, said she was aware of other similar incidents and would remind Mr Mulder’s department the issue needed to be addressed.
The minister has defended the Coalition government’s record of improving public transport access.
“We take access to trains for people of all abilities very seriously,” Mr Mulder said.
“Since coming to government, we have worked on the issue of access to trains from train platforms, because there were access issues when it came to the gap between the platform and the carriage as well as the height difference between the two.”
V/Line said 22 of the disability-suitable Z-class carriages were withdrawn from service last year for bogie testing and repair.
So far 13 had been returned to service, but there still weren’t enough to cater for patronage and maintenance requirements.
V/Line recommended passengers book tickets well ahead of departure.
Labor’s South West Coast candidate in the November state elections, Roy Reekie, echoed the criticisms.
Mr Reekie was among patrons interviewed by The Standard in 2002, when he said the biggest improvement he noticed was the space for passengers with mobility issues. “The situation today is just not acceptable,” he said.
“If passengers are able to get a train with a suitable carriage they can’t use the toilet.”
Warrnambool resident Ray Ahearn, who has relied on a wheelchair for many years, said the promised improvements had dragged on far too long.
“If you book ahead you don’t know if a suitable carriage will be provided until you arrive at the station,” he said.
“V/Line will provide a taxi and pay the fare difference, but riding in the back of a vehicle on rough roads is not ideal.
“There should be compliant carriages on every train.”