CZ/SK verze

Czech Railways Enhances Accessibility: A Leap Forward for Disabled Passengers

Czech Railways Enhances Accessibility: A Leap Forward for Disabled Passengers
photo: Marie Harcubova / Disway/Travelling in Switzerland
16 / 01 / 2024

Demand from passengers with disabilities for adequate travel conditions is pushing carriers to provide wheelchair-accessible transport and additional services. Are there better days ahead for Czech passengers?

Special websites can be used to book transport and assistance for passengers with reduced mobility. Reservations for journeys within the Czech Republic must be made at least 24 hours before the train departs from the initial station or border crossing. This timeframe allows for checking available options and informing the passenger about the availability of assistance. When traveling to or from abroad, passengers must contact the carrier at least 48 hours before the train's departure. The service is provided free of charge.

"If disabled passengers combine the services of several carriers and place an order for transport or assistance in the ČD system, the order is automatically forwarded to the One Ticket system administrator, CENDIS," Petr Pošta from the press department of České dráhy, a.s., explains to RAILTARGET. "CENDIS then coordinates the transport arrangement with all involved carriers."

"Compared to foreign countries, we are lagging behind in the quality of services for the handicapped," says Tomáš Hluštík, an electric wheelchair traveller. He is particularly bothered by the need to plan the journey in advance. "I more or less expect the service as a person without limitations. I want to plan my journey in the short term and I expect it to actually happen in the 21st century," Hluštík comments on the situation.

Marie Harcubova / Disway

He sees inspiration, for example, in neighbouring Germany or Switzerland, where platforms and trains are on the same level. This is facilitated by mobile rails, allowing a train to be accessed easily and providing space for comfortably parking even larger wheelchairs. Marie Harcubová from the Disway association also has excellent experience of travelling with a wheelchair from abroad: "We have excellent experience from Switzerland, where travelling by train is no problem for wheelchair users. For example, the journey to the Gornergrat to the Matterhorn viewpoint was without problems. They always had a mechanical platform ready to enter the train and everything worked."

Accessible trains and options for the visually impaired will be added

In the Czech Republic, however, the transport of wheelchair users, the blind, and the deaf is also increasingly being taken into account in rail transport. "The accessibility of trains for passengers with disabilities will be significantly expanded during this year thanks to the deployment of completely new trains, both in regional and long-distance transport," Pošta tells RAILTARGET. "Thanks to the deployment of new RegioFox and RegioPanter units on regional lines and the launch of new ComfortJet trains on long-distance services, older trains that provided less comfort will be phased out of regular service."

All of these new units and trains will be adapted from the factory for passengers with reduced mobility. They will be equipped with boarding platforms, barrier-free interiors (including toilets and reserved seats for these passengers), visual and acoustic information systems, Braille descriptions, and other features that will greatly simplify the journey for customers with disabilities.

Facebook ČD/ Low-floor trains will have seats for wheelchair passengers

"We have adapted the entire website for visually impaired passengers, making it easy to find information about tickets, services provided, or the current train journey. Blind passengers can contact our customer centre at 221 111 122, where operators will provide them with comprehensive information, help them secure tickets, and assist with boarding or alighting," says the press department specialist.

ČD's website allows users to enlarge the font and use a voice reader, meeting the requirements of Blind Friendly Web and W3C standards. After searching for a connection, users can also purchase tickets directly online. In the new and modernised trains, all controls are labelled with Braille descriptions. Navigation beacons guide passengers to the boarding doors for easy boarding. Some ČD trains have special seats near the entrance doors reserved for visually impaired passengers. Guide dogs for blind ZTP/P cardholders and assistance dogs are carried free of charge.

Registered transport of passengers with disabilities

"Last year, we arranged 8,548 registered journeys for disabled passengers through the reservation system. Compared to the previous year, this number increased by around 1,300, surpassing the last pre-COVID year of 2019. Over the last six years, from 2018 to 2023, we have provided transport for over 31,000 passengers. Thousands more people with disabilities have used barrier-free connections and stations and travelled with their guides without the assistance of the carrier," summarizes Petr Pošta.

According to data from the Czech Statistical Office, there are more than one million people with various types and degrees of disability in the Czech Republic. More than half of them have a disability pension, care or mobility allowance, or are holders of a TP, ZTP, or ZTP/P card. This significant population deserves full transport facilities. The situation has improved compared to the past, but there are still reserves for barrier-free travel in our country.