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Anger over disabled boys left on railway platform

By David G Scott

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A THURSO man has expressed his anger over the plight of his disabled stepson who was left out in the cold after a train delay on the far north line last Saturday morning.

Kenny Farmer was travelling with his 14-year-old stepson, who is profoundly disabled and a wheelchair user, on the 6.18am Caithness to Inverness service when the train was suddenly terminated at Lairg.

"We ended up sitting in a cold bus shelter at Golspie for 70 minutes and I had to change his nappy out there in the open which caused him a lot of embarrassment," said Mr Farmer, whose stepson's name is being withheld.

The delay was caused by a broken-down train at Invergordon and passengers were told initially they would have to sit for four hours at Lairg until alternative transport could be arranged. Mr Farmer said the train was full of passengers returning from the festive break.

"They couldn't get any buses or taxis so they decided to link up with a later service and said they'd take us back up the line to Helmsdale.

"Because the boy is in a wheelchair we couldn't get over the bridge at Helmsdale to get to the right platform, so we were taken to Golspie."

The train from Thurso railway station was full of passengers returning from the festive break and was delayed due to a broken-down train further down the line. Picture: Willie Mackay
The train from Thurso railway station was full of passengers returning from the festive break and was delayed due to a broken-down train further down the line. Picture: Willie Mackay

Another disabled boy in a wheelchair, accompanied by his grandmother, had to wait at the unmanned station in what Mr Farmer described as a "cold bus shelter".

"My stepson needed the toilet and there was no choice but to change his nappy out there in the shelter.

"He really hated that as it caused him no end of embarrassment and he was screaming as I tried to change the pad."

Mr Farmer said that he had to put his coat on the ground to change the 14-year-old, who suffers from global developmental delay, in an attempt to make him more comfortable.

"The other boy that was there has spina bifida and his grandmother had to cover up his legs with her coat due to the cold. She said she was going to speak to a councillor about it, she was that annoyed."

Wick and East Caithness councillor Raymond Bremner said he was very concerned over the "terrible time" the passengers went through.

"Their experience was well short of what I would have expected from ScotRail to be a duty of care for its passengers," he said. "I have been in touch with their fleet manager in Inverness and asked for clarification on what happened."

Councillor Bremner has scheduled a meeting with ScotRail representatives and has written to Scotland's transport secretary.

When the delayed passengers decanted into the next scheduled service heading to Inverness, Mr Farmer said there were no extra carriages put on and the train was "standing room only" for much of the journey.

The two disabled boys had access to the allocated spaces for wheelchairs, however, he added.

A ScotRail spokesperson said that the service terminated at Lairg due to a train fault and, though alternative transport was arranged, sourcing the transport was difficult due to the "remote location".

“We’re really sorry to Mr Farmer and his family because we’ve let them down on the high standards of travel that we aim to provide, and to other customers who experienced disruption to their journey as a result of this cancellation," the spokesperson said.

“We would encourage customers who were travelling on their service to claim compensation through our Delay Repay Guarantee on our website or mobile app.”

At the time of going to press, Mr Farmer said ScotRail had not responded to his own complaints. Councillor Bremner is due to meet the fleet manager on Friday's 8.02am train to Inverness.

"I’ll be discussing a number of issues with him and a number of those have been referred to their head of access and inclusion which I am pleased with," the councillor said.

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