Preventing discrimination against disabled people on Network Rail’s North West route

Network Rail section 23 agreement


Network Rail entered a legally binding agreement with us after it failed to make reasonable adjustments for disabled users during a lift refurbishment.


While lifts were out of action during refurbishment works at Manchester Victoria station in September 2019, wheelchair users had to drag themselves up steps to access the station or use a stair-climber, which caused a number of disabled people considerable distress.

Before a refurbishment project at Manchester Victoria started, Network Rail failed to complete a Disability Impact Assessment and consult with disabled passengers or groups, to determine whether arrangements to replace the lifts were appropriate.

As a result, the assistance available was unsuitable. A lack of clear signage and communication also meant that disabled passengers were not aware of any support that was available. We were concerned that Network Rail had breached its legal obligations to make reasonable adjustments for disabled users.

Why we were involved:

We have long-standing commitments to improving access to transport for disabled people; it was a key part of our three year strategic plan for 2019-2022.

For many people, public transport can be their gateway to the world. It may well be how they get to school or work, vital for them as a means to travel to a hospital or their only way to visit friends and family.

Transport operators have clear responsibilities in law to ensure travel is just as possible for disabled people as for everyone else. When that doesn’t happen, there can be a profound impact on disabled people.

What we did:

We worked closely with Network Rail to enter into a legal agreement, known as a section 23 agreement under the Equality Act 2006.

Network Rail committed to:

  • Make appropriate reasonable adjustments during refurbishment projects, following consultation and agreement with user groups and stakeholders
  • Ensure that a Diversity Impact Assessment is carried out at an early stage of every refurbishment project life-cycle
  • Implement a new Communications Plan to ensure that clear, concise and timely communications accompany lift renewal schemes in order to minimise the impact to passengers of reduced mobility.

What happened:

We regularly monitored Network Rail’s action plan to ensure the agreed steps were completed. Network Rail worked with us to implement the improvements under the agreement during two lift refurbishment projects on the North West route:

  • At Macclesfield train station, the lift refurbishment was completed in April 2021 and there is now a more reliable step-free access at this station. During the refurbishment Network Rail implemented a communications strategy to inform rail users of the works, with information on how disabled service users could book assistance travel if step-free access was required, offering disabled passengers tickets to travel to the nearest step-free station, and providing more staff on hand at the station to assist passengers.
  • The Manchester Piccadilly lift refurbishment at platforms 13 and 14 started in January 2022, and is due for completion in June 2022. To mitigate the impact of the improvement works, a stair lift suitable for wheelchair users was installed, extra staff made available to assist disabled service users, and a communications strategy devised, which included a video about the project.
  • Network Rail also produced a video explaining the lift-refurbishment projects more generally.

Who will benefit and how?

Using public transport is an essential part of making sure you can take part in all aspects of life, from going to school, to a doctor’s appointment or work.

It is therefore vital that equality is at the heart of public transport design so that no one is discriminated against.

The improvements Network Rail made by installing a stair lift, ensuring additional staff are on hand to assist passengers and improving its communications about planned refurbishments, will greatly benefit disabled people using its services.

While the most immediate benefits will be seen by disabled people and their families, this agreement signified the importance of all transport operators understanding the Public Sector Equality Duty, so that anyone using their services can do so without difficulty or exclusion.

Last updated: 05 May 2022