Minister glosses over DfT’s role in delaying compliance programmes

As this column has been reporting for the last couple of years, late deliveries of new rolling stock and endlessly deferred decisions on the future of ex-British Rail fleets made it inevitable that trains not complying with the Persons with Reduced Mobility Technical Specification for Interoperability (PRM-TSI) would remain in service past the 1 January 2020 deadline. There was a table listing the likely candidates requiring dispensations to remain in service in the December 2019 column.

Letters granting the necessary dispensations were not posted on the Department for Transport website until 31 December, although dated November. Meanwhile, on 19 December Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris wrote to the Rail Delivery Group expressing his ‘extreme disappointment’ that the rail industry and train operators would fail to meet the deadline to provide accessible trains ‘for every passenger and every journey by the end of the year’.

Using a trope soon taken up by the disability lobby, the Minister claimed that ‘owners and operators have had 10 years to prepare for the 31 December 2019 deadline’ Why 10 years? don’t know.

It is either 15 years from when the 2005 revision of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) became law, or 22 years from the Rail Vehicles Accessibility Regulations coming into force. The lobbyists preferred 25 years.

For the chop: former Grand Central HST in East Midlands service at Derby on 19 February 2019. Philip Sherratt


Much of the blame rests with delays to delivery and acceptance of new trains or refurbishing programmes, including PRM compliance work. However, the Department for Transport has contributed to the problem by its refusal to face up to the approaching deadline. Examples will be instanced in the commentary on our comprehensive table.

Mr Heaton-Harris acknowledged the impact of delivery delays. But then provided this perceptive observation: ‘Despite such a significant period of time for the rail industry to prepare, understand that were all non-compliant trains removed from service there would be a disproportionately negative effect on the provision of services for passengers’.

Anyway, he ‘reluctantly’ agreed to issue ‘strictly time-limited’ dispensation notices for ‘around 1,200’ carriages subject to two ‘major conditions’.

First, operators are required to provide evidence that the introduction of new or refurbished vehicles remains on track. What evidence, wonder?

Perhaps a letter from the Chief Executive of MultiNational Trains GmbH, signed in his blood, promising that service entry of the late running Class 766 quintuple-mode multiple-unit fleet is on time according to Version 27 of the revised delivery schedule?

Second, operators must ‘understand’ that they are also legally bound to deliver the commitments they made on information provision, journey planning assistance, mobility assistance and operational mitigations, such as coupling non-compliant vehicles to compliant ones, ‘where possible’.


Table 1 (overleaf) lists the non-compliant fleets remaining in service past the deadline subject to dispensations. We have added some supplementary data, including whether the policy is replacement with new or cascaded stock and where refurbishment is ongoing. Replacement stock is also shown, with the manufacturer and delivery status.


A classic example of DfT’s complicity in the need for dispensations is provided by East Midlands Railway’s InterCity 125 replacement programme. Former franchisee East Midlands Trains began raising this issue with DfT in 2017. DfT was insistent that this would be a matter for the replacement franchise.

Under DfT’s franchise replacement programme launched in 2013, East Midlands was scheduled to be re-let in October 2017. This would have allowed time to procure replacements for IC125 or make the fleet PRM-TSI compliant.

By 2015 the replacement franchise date had slipped to May 2018. Provision for an additional 13 periods’ extension then followed.

After further delays, East Midlands Railway took over in August 2019, having to sort out the PRM-TSI issue from virtually a standing start. All down to DfT’s laxity.

Anyway, the table needs some explanation.

Porterbrook’s nine IC125 sets are to be replaced by IC125s cascaded from LNER. These had some PRM-TSI work done during refurbishment and are thus less non-compliant than the sets they replace. Angel’s three existing sets in service with EMT are to be replaced by cascaded Alstom Class 180 diesel-electric multiple-units (DEMUs) released from Hull Trains following delivery of the new Hitachi Class 802 bi-mode multiple-units.

Completion of the Bedford – Corby electrification will see EMR’s ‘outer suburban’ services taken over by Class 360 electric multiple-units cascaded from Greater Anglia. This will release Class 222 DEMUs, allowing the IC125 fleet to be withdrawn.


Missing from our December table was the Class 373 Eurostar fleet. DfT has provided dispensations for two unrefurbished units to remain in service to the end of 2020.

I am indebted to my colleague Keith Fender for the information that the exemption applies to two of the original Class 373 trains (now designated e300) that remain operational and are used occasionally as a contingency. Eurostar’s PRM-TSI compliant fleet comprises 17 e320 trains and eight compliant e300s. The two non-compliant sets will be withdrawn when the dispensation expires.


Dispensations are complicated for these single-vehicle units which, despite rising ridership, represent an economic solution on lines with the lightest ridership. Transport for Wales has eight PRM-TSI compliant Class 153s equipped with a Universal Access Toilet. According to informed sources, adding to the PRM-TSI compliant fleet is under active consideration with operators.

Non-compliant units are required to run in multiple with a compliant DMU, but this is relaxed in the case of certain specified routes. For example, in the case of the EMR units they can run solo on Doncaster – Peterborough, Newark – Grimsby and Derby – Crewe services.


Here is another example of DfT delaying compliance. In the case of Northern, a late decision was taken to run Class 323s in place of the original proposal for Class 319s. With West Midlands, rolling stock policy was not determined until the franchise was let in December 2017. This meant the resulting PRM-TSI programme started with the refurbishment business and its suppliers at full capacity.


These units, which do not have a Universal Access Toilet, have been running under a dispensation granted in 2014. When operated in multiple with a Class 465 EMU, the two-car Class 466 does not need to comply with the requirements shown in the table.

However, a Class 466 can operate independently on the Bromley North branch line to and from Grove Park until 31 December 2020. By the time the dispensation expires, the branch is expected to see modifications to driver-only operation equipment that will allow four-car PRM-compliant trains to operate.

Here too the dead hand of the DfT complicates matters. Under the aborted South Eastern franchise replacement procurement, the Networkers were due to be replaced through another of the rolling stock mass extinctions that have characterised recent franchising policy. Now the Class 466 units will have to run on for an indeterminate period.


• Wheelchair spaces

• Height of door controls

• Force required to operate door buttons

• Timing of door button bezel illumination

• Door button arrangement

• Illumination of step/floor threshold

• Lack of external bodyside PIS displays

• Volume of announcements

• Height of handrail in doorway

• Platform/train gap and step

• Height of external step riser

• Quantity of priority seating

• Clearance to handrails

• Internal door buttons

• Safety signage

• Accessible toilet

• Width of standard toilet door