Photo Essay

British Railways (BR) 'Guard's van': photographs taken in the late 1980's.

Seen from a guards van 006

Despite this type of carriage being known as 'the Guard's-van',it was very rare for a railway employee (i.e a Guard) to actually be in the van. There was no heating, nor was there any additional seating for companions of wheelchair users, or Tanoy speakers or even an alarm. There was a charge of course for the train ticket, although a five percent discount was given.

I was once put on the wrong train by a British Rail employee and ended up in Slough. When I questioned the guard, he said that he had announced the destination 3 times on the speaker system, I had to point out that none of these speakers reached the carriage that I had been put in.

I am amazed that, as far as I know, no female wheelchair user was ever sexually assaulted in this type of carriage, considering she would have no access to any alarm bell, nor would it be likely for any witnesses who could get help. The use of this carriage represents a policy of apartheid for wheelchair users by the British Rail Board although people have been using wheelchairs in the UK for far longer than the existence of the train.

At one time in the late 1980's I travelled to Birmingham and as luck would have it I shared the guards-van with the disabled television presenter Sian Vasey. I asked her about her return journey. She told me that someone had left the window wide open which she could not close and was made ill because of the cold draft.

Alan Kerr told me that he rarely travelled by train because of the guard's van. He said "I was travelling up from Chatham and was stuck in the cage and the door for the platform was on the other side. I recall screaming and shouting to get passengers to get the Guard to release me. Another major reason was and still is the accessibility of the station platforms".

John Evelyn (a contemporary of Samuel Pepys) recorded the use of a wheelchair in his diary entry of the 11th January, 1672, the earliest passenger train in England only dates back to September, 1825, one hundred and fifty-three years later.

A series of photographs taken or directed by Keith Armstrong of wheelchair users trains and railway stations in the UK in the 1980s. On going - further pictures will be added at a later date.

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