Community Rail Lancashire, in partnership with Northern and working with the National Autistic Society, has become the UK’s first autism friendly railway line.
The first route to become autism friendly will be the Todmorden Curve line between Accrington, Burnley Manchester Road and Manchester Victoria. Autism friendly resources are available on the route from 30 July.
The project launched at Blackburn station, with a number of attendees from within rail and local families with autistic children and young people. Carolyn Watson, Community and Sustainability Director, Northern, spoke at the launch, and said: “Improving the journey experience of our customers is one of our top priorities and we recognise that, for some people, using the railway is not always straightforward. We want to make our trains – and our wider network – as accessible as possible, and are delighted to be able to support this fantastic project. Our colleagues jumped at the chance to get involved and we are absolutely committed to making the UK’s first autism-friendly line a success that can be replicated elsewhere.”
The attendees had a fantastic day, with a 100% positive response rate when asked if they would use the line in the future, and if the resources helped them to feel confident or would assist other families.
There are around 700,000 autistic children and adults in the UK, as well as three million family members. Autistic people would like the same opportunities to travel as everyone else, but can struggle in public places like in stations and on trains and be anxious about unexpected changes, like delays on transport.
Daisy Chapman-Chamberlain, project manager with Community Rail Lancashire, said: “Unexpected changes when taking public transport can be overwhelming; 79% of autistic people tell the National Autistic Society they feel socially isolated, and for some, the fear of unexpected changes could mean not even leaving the house. By giving these young people and their families the chance to experience public transport in a positive and guided context, we can give them confidence for future use.”
The National Autistic Society are training Northern staff members working on the line about how they can deliver the best possible experience and support for autistic customers and others with hidden needs.
Daniel Cadey, Autism Friendly Development Manager at the National Autistic Society, said: “Train travel can can be stressful for everyone, but for an autistic person, the noise, crowds and break from their usual routine can be overwhelming, leading them to avoid using the railways all together. So we’re really pleased that Community Rail Lancashire has developed resources to help their autistic passengers prepare for journeys and that our charity will be training Northern’s staff understand the needs of their autistic customers. We want more rail companies to follow Community Rail Lancashire’s and Northern’s example and open up their services to hundreds of thousands of autistic people.”
There are also specialist resources available including sunglasses and ear defenders to assist passengers who may have sensory needs (subject to availability) and detailed line guides for families to download and help them prepare for their journey. The guides cover key travel information about the stations, trains and family-friendly businesses along the line, many of whom have autism-friendly sessions. Activity books are available for young adults and children.