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Video: Paraplegic passenger Julie Cleary forced to travel in wrong direction at Staplehurst station

A paraplegic traveller has told of her nightmare journey - after being asked to make a 30-mile round trip at a revamped station.

Four months after a £2.8 million lift was installed to help disabled rail passengers and parents with buggies, it is still working only when the station is manned.

Southeastern, which manages the lifts at Staplehurst Station, says it should be fully operational in a week or so.

The company has now apologised to a paraplegic woman who was told by staff to board another train and make a 30-mile round trip in order to reach the opposite platform and exit the station.

Rail passenger Julie Cleary, who had difficulties at Staplehurst station
Rail passenger Julie Cleary, who had difficulties at Staplehurst station

Julie Cleary, 53, who uses a wheelchair after suffering a spinal aneurysm when she was 12, had returned from a day out in London, arriving at Staplehurst station at about 8pm on a Saturday in December.

Miss Cleary, of South Bank, Staplehurst, and a woman with a pushchair advanced towards the lift, which cost £2.8 million to install, and found a metal bar covering the button which activates it.

They pushed a nearby 'Help Point' button and said they needed to use the lift, which connects the Ashford-bound platform with a walkway to another lift down to the London-bound platform and the station exit.

But the help point voice said the lift was only in use when the station was manned.

When the women asked how they could leave the station as they were unable to negotiate the steps to the footbridge, the voice said they would have to board a train, change at Ashford International, onto another train back to the opposite Staplehurst platform - a journey of around 15 miles each way.

Fortunately Miss Cleary had friends with her, who were able to pick up her wheelchair and carry her up the steps to the footbridge.

She said: "My friends were brilliant, but it was still embarrassing simply not being able to leave the station.

"I did feel furious about it. If I was on my own I would have had no choice but to take the train to Ashford, which is a large and busy station, then change back on the train to Staplehurst."

After she raised her case with Maidstone and the Weald MP Ann Widdecombe, who opened the station lift, Southeastern apologised, described the experience as "abysmal" and sent Miss Cleary £30 in rail vouchers.

A Southeastern spokesman said that since the lifts were opened in November 2009, they had been operational while the station was manned.

Work should be completed soon on installing a dedicated help point by the lift, which will allow passengers to contact a control room which can operate the lift remotely, when the station is un-manned at night.

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