Voice of Vision Impairment, JUN 2022
DART stands for Dublin Area Rapid Transit, and is the name given to overground urban and suburban rail service in the Greater Dublin Area.
VVI compiled this position paper in the Spring and early Summer of 2022 in response to Irish Rail’s consultation on a design for a new DART fleet.
This document is complementary to our other policy documents, in particular, our Accessible Communications Policy, and our Policy on Accessible Public Spaces
There is a need for consistency from carriage to carriage. Also, there is a need for consistency vis-à-vis front and back carriages vs. the rest of the train. In other words, the layout should be identical in all carriages, no matter which way they are facing.
1.2. Priority Seating Signs
The current signage (embedded in the windows of commuter trains) announcing Priority seating for blind and pregnant people is very useful and needs to be replicated in the new fleet.
Bright yellow handrails are essential – i.e., not green, blue, or any other colour. The standard on Dublin Bus, Luas, and currently on Irish Rail, is very good because yellow reflects light while also being very distinctive.
The vertical handrail from the floor to the ceiling when one boards the train is very useful. This is like the Luas or Iarnród Éireann Diesel Commuter trains and essential for people to maintain their balance when no seating is available, and need to be easily visible to visually impaired people who have some sight.
Vertical handrail attached to the ‘wall’ on either side of the door: We are very impressed with this as there is currently nothing to hold onto when boarding or exiting trains in Ireland, so this is very welcome. Because there is nothing to hold onto, currently, passengers have to lean against the door-jam.
Handrails on seating
These are handy for shuffling around the corner to the aisle; and work well to assist a passenger standing; and, of course, for other passengers to hold onto for balance while walking through the train. The thinner version is easier to grip for those with less hand muscle or dexterity. Also, the rails should protrude less into the aisle, in case of passenger collision and should also be present at the top of seats, allowing more passengers (e.g., from behind the seat) to have the potential for easy-to-reach holding.
In general, the more opportunities for holding onto a rail etc., the better. A blind person cannot see where such rails are, and so it cannot be presumed that we will know where to reach. The more options we have in our close vicinity, the better.
1.4. Accessible Door Buttons
The door buttons need to be accessible: including raised high contrast print, as well as durable Standard English Braille. Currently, the braille “c” and “o” on commuter train door buttons and raised door open/close arrows is good practice.
Regarding clarity of braille, we are very impressed with the definition of braille signage on the refurbished De Dietrich Enterprise train between Belfast and Dublin.
1.5. Accessible Help Buttons
Similarly, the help/intercom facility needs to have the same raised print and braille signage for visually impaired passengers.
1.6. Accessible Carriage ID
On trains, the identification number for each respective carriage should be accessible on the back of every seat, beside every door, and on every toilet door. Accessible, in this respect, means raised print letters in high contrast, and Standard English Braille.
1.7. Questioning the Concept of “Family Seating”
It is proposed that there be designated “family seating” areas on carriages. The practicality of such a feature as a designated family area is questionable. Rather than being in the best planning tradition of envisaging normal or worst-case scenarios, it appears to be based on someone’s imaging of an ideal journey, perhaps on a lovely sunny Sunday afternoon etc. Even then, the idea that there would only be space for one family per carriage (with two bicycles only), appears to be tokenistic, at best.
The more area designations in a carriage, the more confusing for passengers, and all designations are likely to be weakened as a result. In particular, we’d be worried that the unnecessary and impractical family designation would reduce the priority seating for vulnerable passengers, and weaken the acceptance of such designated areas by passengers more generally.
Keeping designations as simple as possible (i.e., priority seating and wheelchair areas closest to the doors) means that consistency (1.1 above) is much more achievable and adoptable.
Also, with a family designation area, as currently planned, when the carriage is reversed on a return journey, a visually impaired person will not necessarily know which side is family, and which side is general. There is no need for such confusion.
A realistic practice Family-friendly approach is currently operating with the use of opposing seating as currently in place on the Dart and used (with table) on intercity and commuter trains.
1.8. Airplane style seating
As with commuter trains and inter-city trains, a mixture of airplane-style seating and opposing seating would retain the family-friendly element, while meaning that there is more seating for all passengers.
There is currently a proposal for a small shelf beside the window on the new DART fleet. The curved edges are useful, but there is the possibility of snagging for those unfamiliar with its presence. As such, we would propose a flip-up version as one alternative, or else, as on one of the diesel commuter trains, which has a cup holder for 2 cups just under the window, which doesn’t take up as much space.
Otherwise, if airport-style seating is mixed in with the opposing seats (as on current inter-city and commuter trains), the flip-up shelves at the back of seats (as currently used) would be viable.
Many passengers like to be able to put their elbow against the frame of the window to rest on their journey, and we would suggest that this feature be retained in any new designs.
1.9. Tip-up seats
Two tip-up seats at the wheelchair space close to the door is also best practice. From a balance perspective, finding a seat as soon as possible when you board a Dart is critical in case you are thrown when the train starts moving. We realise that there are planned to be 2 tip-up seats at the wheelchair area and are supportive of this.
1.10. Wheelchair Spaces
On ICR trains, such as those operating to Galway, Tralee, Rosslare etc, one carriage on each 4 carriage set has room for 2 wheelchairs (one left and one right). We propose that this system be designed for every carriage in the new DART design.
While wall mounted signage should work for designation of wheelchair spaces, other passengers often do not or cannot read it, and either park themselves or their luggage there. Accordingly, use of the Dublin Bus standard floor signage of a white wheelchair on a blue background should also be used to help to prevent any confusion, albeit with the use of carpet rather than smooth flooring (with Dublin Bus using the latter).
It appears that on the new DART fleet, Alstom have some concerns about passengers congregating in this area who are only travelling 2 or 3 stops and thus blocking the flow for a wheelchair passenger to board. A useful mediation for this is found on Luas trams, where an announcement of ‘passengers, please move down the tram to allow other passengers to board’ helps with the onboard dispersal of passengers.
1.11. bicycle storage
Transport For London (TFL) does not allow bicycles on its trains because of risk of self-combustion. Clearly, the combustibility of e-bikes and e-scooters needs to be investigated before they are allowed onto passenger-trains.
Also, having space for two bicycles for each carriage appears to be more trouble than it’s worth. It reduces seating space and consistency standards, while only appearing to be tokenistic in terms of “active modes”. A specific holding space for multiple bicycles (even if only a dedicated 6-m long carriage) would be practical for lone cyclists and not interfere with other passengers.
1.12. USB ports for charging
The 2 USB ports between the 2 seats is a good location and ensures no wires going across the other passenger as it currently the case on Intercity ICR and Mark4 trains where the usb ports are in the wall of the train. The metal trunking covering these will ensure they won’t get damaged.
We recommend under-seat, rather than shoulder-height, positioning of the USB ports because it is easier to access, especially when one is seated, and one is less likely to be annoying another passenger in plugging and unplugging etc.
1.13. Space under Seating
We are very impressed with the proposed ample storage for bags etc under the seating, as per model we reviewed in March (2022), at the Irish Rail Works in Inchicore. Such space is also good space for a guide-dog. From a visually impaired perspective, it’s all about keeping the aisles clear for all passengers and ensuring no-one stands on the dog etc.
The regular priority seating on ICR trains backs onto a luggage rack and are certainly a tight fit for a guide dog. Indeed, this means the guide-dog has to rest in the middle of the aisle, where passengers, including visually impaired passengers can step on them or trip over them.
2.1. Automatic Door-opening
In order for visually impaired people to independently locate the doors from the inside or outside, there needs to be automatic door opening for doors on the alighting side. This best practice is currently operating in London (since the 1980s), and in Berlin (since the start of Covid. Opening of some doors will not suffice, as many visually impaired passengers will not know whether they are standing on the platform near the front or the rear of a stationary train, and those on the inside may not know on which side of the carriage to get off (i.e., find the door opening button).
An arguments that automatic door-opening may be uncomfortable for on-board passengers is relatively frivolous, especially when contrasted with the right of visually impaired people to independently board trains as per universal design. The principle of Human Rights being more important than aesthetic convenience is paramount.
2.2. High Contrast Doors
There is a need for high contrast colouring of doors. The current proposal of grey doors on a white train does not meet this need. Best practice can be seen on the current commuter fleet, where white doors are contrasted with a dark green carriage.
2.3. Two-way bleeps, with distinctive closing sound
The proposed feature of bleeps to represent the open carriage door – and bleeps that can be heard from the outside and inside – is very welcome.
3.1. External Livery
The current external livery on commuter trains where the engine is yellow, and the train is dark green, is what we consider to be best practice.
3.2. Visual Display of PIS Signage
Visual display of public announcement systems should be in accordance with all EU Regulations and Directives.
3.3. Audio Announcements
At en route stations, the next station should be announced prior to arriving at, and on arrival at, that station. When the door is open, announcement should be made of the next stop and the final stop, and this announcement should be two-way, audible from the platform as well as from the train.
3.4. Positioning of Speakers
We note that speakers are planned for the roof. However, speakers are needed closer to the ear-level of passengers. In terms of fleet consistency, these could be at a priority seating or flip-up seat adjacent to a wheelchair dock.
At least, there should be an intercom beside the door and under the horizontal handrail in the wheelchair area between the tip up seats, as proposed. Of course this is coach c or carriage 3 but having intercoms on the right side of the 4 doors in each carriage is a valuable safety net to contact the Driver in the event of the next stop audio announcement system not working etc.
3.5. Accessible Digital Signage
Without prejudice to any other measure indicated in this or other VVI position documents, the relevant statutory bodies should explore the use of accessible digital signage with regard to the new DART design, closely consulting and actively engaging with DPO’s (including their prioritisation and distinguishing in such consultations).
There are various possible mechanisms for accessible digital signage, including Navilens, which is dependent on a smartphone camera being able to decode physical tags which are strategically placed and which can make detailed information, including real-time updates, accessible to visually impaired and other people.
Where relevant, the information provided by ADS must be realtime or otherwise adequately updated, as appropriate.
3.51. Example of Possible ADS on Trains
Onboard tags could provide information on:
- Carriage numbers
- Seat-numbers and location of priority seating
- Information on stops
- Emergency information
- The location of toilets
- The location and use of buttons