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  1. Dear RMT/Southwestern Railway, I am a wheelchair user and do not drive, so am entirely dependent on public transport. I had intended to travel to my sister’s home on Saturday 21st December. When the strike on that date was announced we explored various alternatives as I cannot risk travelling on a train that would have already been crowded but is now likely to involve additional changes and be even more crowded, if it runs at all. One of the services I need to use only has one wheelchair space, so if it’s already occupied I could have ended up waiting hours for another train. I cannot use National Express coaches as my wheelchair is too heavy to be carried as luggage and is not suitable for use on their accessible buses. With no other option, I eventually and very reluctantly agreed to allow my brother-in-law to undertake a 4 hour return journey on Christmas Eve to fetch me. I detest having to disrupt his Christmas Eve plans and also will not be able to enjoy my stay nearly as much as I’ll have no time to get over the pain travelling inevitably causes me before the big day, but it’s better than not being able to get there at all. Yesterday, RMT announced a further strike on 27th December, the day I need to travel home and the day that both my sister and her husband have to go back to work. Again, the trains would be crowded anyway so that any that do run are going to be much worse, and again, there’s the issue with limited wheelchair spaces being already occupied. I have travelled during a previous strike and did eventually get to my destination, however the whole experience was horrendous. At one station I actually held up the train’s departure for nearly 15 minutes whilst station and train staff attempted to clear enough passengers and luggage out of the way for me to reach the wheelchair space, and whilst I cannot fault any of the staff or most of the passengers who had to move, it would have been a humiliating experience even without the few who complained. There have been enough horror stories about disabled users and public transport in the news this year for most people to be aware that any journey on public transport is a challenge. Add in strikes at an already busy time of the year and the challenge becomes insurmountable. The fact that the strike seems to be over something that wasn’t ever going to happen anyway is just the icing in the cake. Southwestern say they’ve never intended to run guard-free trains, RMT say they will, so who is telling the truth and why do they have to wreck my Christmas to sort it out? Perhaps someone could spell out for me what is so terrible that it's worth leaving me, or anyone else, to spend Christmas on their own? I'll definitely be thinking of you both as I tuck into my turkey burger and pudding for one.
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