Bristol Temple Meads has become the first station in the country to offer audio guides aimed at helping blind and visually impaired people navigate the sprawling station. Network Rail Partnered with a local charity, the Bristol Sight Loss Council, to produce the 12 free audio maps, which are available from today (December 4).
Getting around Temple Meads has become increasingly difficult since Christmas 2020, when Network Rail began a multi-year project to restore the station's Grade I-listed roof. The refurbishment is not due to be completed in the summer of 2024, and in the interim, large scaffolding towers have been erected in parts of the station. Some areas are now only accessible in one direction or are temporarily closed to access.
In recognition of the challenges these obstacles pose blind and partially sighted people, Network Rail worked with BSLC to produce an audio guide of the station and to ensure it remains as accessible as possible for all passengers.
The guide is the first for a Network Rail station and includes 12 audio files accessed via the company's website, where they can be played back on devices, including smartphones and tablets. Each file guides the listener through a particular station section, making navigation much easier for blind and partially sighted people.
Alun Davies, the engagement manager for BSLC who has been and he has been totally blind since losing his sight at 14, has worked on the project and tested it extensively. He told the BBC: "Like anything, a train station for a blind person is a frightening environment, flipping heck I wish I'd had this when I first moved to Bristol; it would have made so much difference to me.
"Because it's all about confidence, it's all about knowing the environment you're going into, so if you come across something you weren't expecting, if you've heard it in advance, you know about it. So therefore, you take some of the fear and anxiety away."
Network Rail says it plans to continue working closely with BSLC and audio guide users to improve this technology further and ultimately roll out this type of guide more widely at other stations across the country. Speaking about the launch of the new guides Bernadette Sachse, Network Rail station manager for Bristol Temple Meads, said: “I am so proud of the work we have done with the BSLC to bring this audio guide to the market, which will help ensure our station remains as accessible as possible for all passengers, particularly during the roof works.
“We want everyone to feel welcome at our stations and constantly strive to improve accessibility for people with disabilities. In addition to the audio guide, all of our station signs are designed in high contrast for better legibility. We install tactile paving on our platforms to improve safety and have made Bristol Temple Meads easily accessible for wheelchair users.
“It was fantastic working with BSLC, who tested the audio guide to ensure it was as user-friendly as possible. I hope this useful tool will give people more confidence in using our railway.”
Emma Hughes, director of services at Thomas Pocklington Trust, which funds BSLC, said: “Sight Loss Councils, led by blind and partially sighted members, work with businesses and service providers to improve service accessibility. They use their lived experience to create powerful change in our communities and work in partnership with others to create that change.
“We are proud of BSLC's collaboration with Temple Meads train station in launching this first-of-its-kind audio guide to help blind and partially sighted people find their way around the station. We want to ensure that all modes of transport are fully accessible for blind and partially sighted people across the country, so everyone can live the life they want independently. Everyone should be able to rely on barrier-free public transport and be able to travel independently and safely."
Coral Thomas, accessibility mentor at GWR, added: “GWR is passionate about making its trains and stations accessible to all. Bristol Temple Meads is currently undergoing a major refurbishment, and anything that can be done to help customers navigate the station is really positive. We look forward to hearing from customers that may be of use in our quest to improve accessibility at stations across the GWR network.”