CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM
It should have been a synch. A brand new train service direct from London to Amsterdam to a hotel opposite the city’s Central Station. An ideal break for myself and my disabled wife with passenger assistance.
The technology works – the superfast new Eurostar trains make the journey there on time- a cool three hours 41 minutes door to door- and could probably do it quicker as the train slowed through Antwerp and leaving Brussels.
But the rest was the stuff of nightmares and the return direct journey is a fake forcing everyone to change at Brussels onto other trains – due to the British obsession of ” taking control of our borders”. And this is before Brexit takes effect.
But the real scandal is the way Eurostar treat disabled people by making false promises and leaving people in the lurch – made worse by poor internal communications and different national systems.
I made sure we had disabled help by contacting Eurostar in mid March and was promised help in London, Amsterdam and Brussels. So it should have been no worries.
The help at London St Pancras worked both on the way there and the way back and the train left on time.
It was only on the journey that things started to go wrong. The service is packed to Brussels – which is the first stop – but then most people get off including the entire train crew. The service then takes on Dutch crew and becomes a bit of ghost train with few passengers yet going on to Rotterdam and Amsterdam.
We were a bit puzzled by first the Belgian crew and then the Dutch crew asking what disabled assistance we wanted – which was some wheelchair assistance at Amsterdam from the platform to the exit. A few minutes before arrival we were told that there would no wheelchair assistance only someone to help get my wife off the train.
The person did arrive and was more concerned that my wife didn’t fall down the gap between the train and platform – as they wanted to lock the train up. We were then left entirely in the lurch by both the Eurostar staff and the station staff to find our own way out.
I tweeted my complaint to Eurostar and they responded with this:
On the way back the real drama began. At Amsterdam Centraal yes they knew we had assistance but we were suddenly told they do not provide wheelchairs except for emergencies. If my wife had fallen over or fell off the train they would help. The information office is on Platform 1 and the train departs from Platform 15 and you only get 20 minutes notice of which platform.
Luckily the woman took pity on us – since no way could my wife get to the train on time – because she walks slowly and was suffering as well from an arthritic knee to add to our problems.
The member of staff broke the rules and despite being reprimanded by another staff member en route took my wife on a wheelchair to the station platform allowing us to get the train.
Then there was Brussels. There was no one to meet us off the Thalys train and although it came into Brussels Midi at platform 3 and Eurostar is on platform 1 there is a long walk through a shopping mall to get there. So given Eurostar allowed less than 50 minutes for the change, it took us nearly 30 minutes to hobble along in pain. I did go ahead to Eurostar to get assistance but there was a huge queue which spilled onto the concourse for the train. When I tried to reach the assistance office inside the entrance I was blocked by other passengers ( there were no staff at the entrance) for queue jumping and they wouldn’t let me pass.
When we did get there – Eurostar had to act fast and the wheelchair man was almost running to get the train. Only to be delayed by British immigration who were quizzing two dark skinned people in front of us about their right to come to the UK. The woman immigration official reading as though from the UKIP handbook told them ” We don’t just allow anyone to come into our country” . I suspect she was personally recruited by Theresa May to create ” a hostile environment” for people of colour.
We got there just in time but the train left late because of ” boarding problems” caused I suspect by the immigration jam. I suspect all Eurostar trains will leave late after Brexit.
Back in England West Midlands trains provided an excellent service at Euston and on the train back to Berkhamsted with the guard personally making sure my wife could get off the train there. Ironically West Midlands trains is mainly owned by Dutch railways.
Frankly if you are disabled do NOT go by Eurostar to Amsterdam, fly instead. Their service is not fit for purpose and the Brussels interchange is likely to continue until the end of 2019 because there are no customs facilities at Amsterdam. I am doing a separate investigation into why this has happened and the news will not be good for British people wanting to travel to Europe by rail.
“We can see that you and your wife did not receive the right support during your recent journey. As part of the booking process, our teams did not correctly request the assistance services at each point of the journey and for this we sincerely apologise. I would like to respond to your specific questions as follows:
We offer assistance services (for wheelchair users and other passengers with reduced mobility) in Amsterdam which are provided by NS, the Dutch railway operator. These services are available for passengers booked in the dedicated wheelchair space, and also for other passengers traveling in standard seating. These assistance services are available by contacting Eurostar at least 48 hours in advance of travel. The special assistance service provided by NS at Amsterdam is an escort from the meeting point to the platform. Unfortunately, NS does not provide wheelchairs as part of this assistance service. ( my emphasis)
– On arrival into Brussels on a Thalys service, the special assistance services are provided by SNCB, the Belgian railway operator. SNCB will meet the passenger at platform level and escort the passenger to the Eurostar Assist welcome point at the Channel Tunnel Terminal. From this point, Eurostar team members will escort the passenger through Eurostar check-in and up to the platform to board the train bound for London.
– At Eurostar stations the Eurostar Assist welcome points are located on the main concourse with all check-in facilities. There are Eurostar Assist welcome points when departing from London, Ashford, Ebbsfleet, Lille, Paris and Brussels. In Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Marne-la-Vallee, Lyon, Avignon, Marseilles and ski destinations – there are Special Assistance points in these stations usually provided by, or on behalf of, the station manager. We will pass your feedback on regarding your experience and your inability to access the Eurostar Assist welcome point due to congestion.
“We do strive to make Eurostar journeys as seamless as possible for all of our travellers, and will be sharing your comments with our partners. In addition, we will be updating our website with more information about the Special Assistance services, and specifically about the connecting return journey from Amsterdam, in direct response to your feedback. (my emphasis) We thank you for your feedback which has helped us to continue to improve our services to passengers with assistance needs.
My heart is sinking. I do hope that in between these nightmare journeys you managed to have a decent break.
Glad to say we had a good time in Amsterdam going to the Van Gogh and the Rijks Museum to see the Rembrandts and Vermeers and some amazing miniature dolls houses – we happen to be reading The Miniaturist at the same time as the trip. The good news is that Eurostar have responded and it looks like they are going to do something aboutit and amend their website. But it appears that NS railway are not keen on changing their wheelchair access policy.
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