I'd like to know why two and three buses turn up at the train station. I'd like to know why there is a Tesco and a Sainsbury's on Cowley Road. I'd like to know what that smell on the First Great Western turbo trains is. I'd like to know what that smell on the Cross Country trains is.

I was on a train earlier this week, a high speed First Great Western train. For the first time ever I wondered about the part of the announcement the conductor makes when they say if you need the saftey information card in Braille it is available from the conductor. I was moved to send First Great Western an email. Here is the exchange.


I travel to work by train every day. The first of four trains each day is a high speed train and something just struck me on Tuesday for the first time ever. I will explain.

The conductor makes an announcement that safety information can be found and if anybody needs it in Braille they should contact the conductor as they walk through the train. The first thing I thought was why should somebody who needs the details in a different format have to ask for it when everybody else has it right there in front of them? The second thought I had was can't the Braille and text be written on the same document? I bet it could be. My third thought was, as I had my head down, reading, how is a blind person supposed to know when the conductor is passing? Seriously. Think about it. I mean absolutely nothing negative by this, I am just saying that a blind person can't see so how can they see the person they're meant to be looking out for? I am not blind but I hardly ever see the conductor, because they do not always make their presence known (I have never heard the conductor ask if anybody needs the safety information in another format, only if anybody needs to purchase tickets) and they almost always walk briskly through the carriage, I find.

I'd really like to know more about this because it seems a big thing (that could be solved easily by overlaying the text on the Braille). Whilst First great Western makes their documents available in Braille, and that is good, it does almost seem like discrimination that a person reading Braille can't just look at the information in the casual way everybody else can.

I look forward to hearing from somebody about this and knowing if any changes will be made.

Thank you,

Dear Miss Ebede

Thank you for your email of 15 July 2011 regarding the Safety Information cards on our services.

All our services will have this information printed in Braille but due to the relatively low demand, only a few copies are on each service and these are kept safe by the Train Manager until one is requested.

The Train Manager will make regular trips through the train throughout the journey checking tickets and therefore the blind person would know when they pass through as they usually make a request for customers to have their tickets ready for inspection.

Thank you again for contacting First Great Western.

Yours sincerely

Customer Services Advisor

Good morning Lewis.

I believe in my original message I mentioned that I take the train every day. Well, I took the train again today (from Oxford I go to stops to Reading) and the conductor this time (at Oxford and at Didcot) did not even mention that a Braille version of the safety information was available. Also, she only passed through the train asking for tickets once, at Oxford, and that was not for inspection, that was to ask if anybody needed to buy tickets.

I understand that your job is not to know everything, only to respond to people's messages. However, I would like to eventually find out why Braille and text cannot be on the same card. Is it the cost of producing the Braille (you said there are only a few copies available)? Why can't somebody who reads Braille just be able to pick up the information card, like everybody else, read it and put it back? Why do they have to be treated differently? Is this not a case of discrimination?

I have another question, actually, whilst I am able to email directly rather than having to fill out that form several times. The question is this: at stations like Iver (that's where I travel to every day) there are only stairs, so does that mean people who cannot manage stairs cannot travel to such stations? Does it mean that a person who is in a wheelchair can only travel to stations where there are lifts, or crossings as at Slough?

Thank you for your time,

Hi Jasmine

Thanks for your email and for taking an interest in the well being of our disabled customers.
As you can see from my address block below my role is to support all customer groups who travel with First Great Western and may possibly be faced with difficulties in doing so.

The Emergency braille cards provided by First Great Western is an initiative that we are rightfully proud of. Even though the numbers of people who actually read braille are very low we consider that it is an important communication for those who do. We are one of very few Train Operating Companies who offer this service.
The braille card was produced and distributed to our guards after consultation with such organisations as RNIB, DPTAC, Passenger Focus and the DfT. After much consideration it was decided that the best way for the information to reach the right person was for it to be given to the individual by the guard.
This would then prevent the need for the individual to have to feel around all over the seat in front to find the card, damage, wear and tear and vandalism would not then be a factor. The opportunity to request the card is given when the guard walks through the train inspecting tickets. I have also provided many individual copies to customers who have requested them. In any emergency all customers will be under the direction of the guard and the important information is provided via the public address system.
Under the circumstances I would not consider our handling of the braille cards to be discriminatory rather it provides a reasonable alternative to the information provided via the emergency card.

Regarding the question of inaccessible stations alternative travel arrangements are always made for those who need it. Accessible taxi's are provided to or from the inaccessible station from the nearest accessible station at no extra cost to the customer.


Good afternoon John.

Thank you for your email. I understand what you say about it being a good thing that First Great Western provides a Braille version of the safety information cards. However, I think what you say avoids addressing exactly what I am asking you.

I am asking you why a person who reads Braille has to ask for the information (bearing in mind what I have said about the conductor's walk through the train neither being obvious nor frequent). You say it prevents damage to the cards. First of all, let's be honest and acknowledge that not everybody reads the cards. This year so far I've been on at least one hundred high speed trains and I've only picked up the card once. Despite the request by the train person to please read the safety information I very much doubt that everybody reads it every time they take the train. That alone is going to reduce the wear on the cards. If we assume that blind people have this habit too (and why wouldn't they?) I think we can safely say that the actual wear on the cards is much less than the potential wear on the cards (that is everybody handling the cards every time they take a train), so why should wear and tear be a reason to not provide the Braille version on the back of the seats?

On most of the seats the card is right in front of a passenger. I'm not convinced that a blind person is going to have to "feel around all over the seat in front to find the card". You also say something I believe Lewis said: there is an opportunity to request a card when the conductor walks through the train. As I said, that does not always happen, and when the person does walk through they do not always make their presence known; if I had my eyes closed and had to say if it is the conductor walking through or a passenger, I would not be able to tell unless the conductor did something that differentiated themselves from a passenger (such as their job, asking for tickets or asking if anybody needs to buy tickets). If you insist that walking through the carriage is a satisfactory alternative to providing the cards, I'd suggest that the conductor should actually ask if anybody needs the safety information in the Braille format.

I also asked why the information for people who can see and the information for people who cannot see can't be on the same card. Can the text and images on the card not have Braille overlaid? Again, all I want to know is why two different types of people have to be treated in different ways when they could quite easily be treated in the same way. Please can you explain to me why the Braille cannot be overlaid. Is it the cost of doing so? Does First Great Western not have enough blind passengers to justify spending the money?

Thank you in advance for answering my questions,

Hi Jasmine

I'm sorry but I feel that I did address your concern. I indicated that the system operated was reviewed and approved by several bodies who work in areas which help to protect the interests of those with disabilities including vision impairment.
I have full addressed the thinking behind this decision which has never been questioned by our customers with vision impairments. This system and the cards have been in use for several years now and although there would be a cost involved in adding the braille to the emergency card we do not believe that this is the best way to deliver this information considering the positivity with which our current system has been received.


I also sent an email to Cross Country asking about the smell on their Voyager trains. I have not yet received a response from anybody.

Good afternoon.

I hope this email address will reach somebody and that I will get a response in reasonable time.

I am writing to you to ask about the smell on Cross Country trains. Every day I take a Cross Country Voyager train from Reading to Oxford and every day I cannot believe the smell. I rarely sit down on the journey, and because I know the train tends to get busy with people standing up I am wise enough to choose to stand in the part of the train with the toilet because it is a big space.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where the smell is strongest. If you do not know the smell I am talking about, please ask your colleagues; somebody at Cross Country must know the smell I am talking about. I would like to find out what it is because it is incredibly unpleasant standing there wondering if it is permeating my clothes (in the winter I was wearing a waxed coat and each night I got home I was convinced the smell had permeated it), not being able to open windows.

Please, if you wouldn't mind letting me know what the smell is I would be really grateful.

Thank you very much,