Train Travel: Travelling First Class As A Wheelchair User
Before I became a wheelchair user, I always travelled first class on trains. Why? Because in the long run, with the train companies I was using, first class was actually decent value for money (cheers CrossCountry!). Since then, I've still travelled first class where I can, but since becoming a wheelchair user, I've noticed that not all train companies in the UK are as accommodating as CrossCountry, Virgin Trains (both West and East coast), and some other train companies.
Where I live, I'm lucky to have 3 train companies to choose from depending on where I'm going. 2 of them offer wheelchair access to first class, the other - South Western Railway, doesn't. But train companies I've travelled with in first class have been exceptionally accommodating. First Class means the room to transfer from my chair into a seat where surprisingly, I feel safer. An incident on a train shortly after I became paraplegic, where I actually fell out of my chair after it tipped backwards (scissor lock brakes are not a good idea) had installed fear into me. I never thought that every time after, I'd be hyperaware of my chairs every movement. Hence why now, wherever and whenever I possibly can, I'll travel first class, where I know I can transfer into a seat that is comfortable for my spine, on top of getting lounge access, drink, and snacks included in the price of the ticket. Even when I go to London, I drive 5 miles to a train station that I can take a Great Western Railway IEP or HST to London or wherever else I'm going. Purely because South Western Railway don't have an accessible first class on their trains.
Perhaps an even bigger thing for wheelchair users travelling on Great Western Railway now, is that fact that the wheelchair spaces on the new IEP trains are in first class, but because of this we now only need to purchase standard class tickets! It means that for wheelchair users travelling on the GWR network, you can now relax in luxury, knowing staff are never far away should you need them. It's something I'm immensely thankful to GWR for, and I will continue to thank them for it for as long as it continues.
The 2 other train companies that I highly regard with regards to wheelchair accessible first class sections are Virgin Trains (both the East and West coast franchises), as well as a train company I spent 17 months of my life prior to my injury, travelling back and forth between Basingstoke and Reading 4 days a week, CrossCountry trains. On both companies, their voyager services have a layout like no other. I can easily transfer into the seats next to the wheelchair space, whilst pushing my chair back into the dedicated space, and the lovely customer hosts or even the train managers happily pop the scissor locks on for me to make it a little less likely to roll away! On Virgin Trains West Coast, their Pendolino services have a wheelchair space in first class with 2 seats opposite on the same table, meaning even easier transfers, and the ability to pop my wheelchair into its dedicated space.
Overall, I'd say that 80% of the train companies I've travelled on definitely have wheelchair accessible first class sections, and staff who treat you like a normal person, and recognise when you need help, and when quite frankly, you're able to do things yourself! The other 20% need to take a page out of these train companies books who are leading by example, and make sure that their new trains have accessible first class sections, or at least do when they go under refurbishment programmes. Some wheelchair users, despite their disability do like the ability to travel in comfort and luxury, and I applaud those train companies who recognise this.