THE owners of Edinburgh Waverley are considering introducing golf-style buggies to transport elderly and disabled passengers across the station if their plans to ban all cars proceed.
Network Rail said significant changes will have to be made to compensate for removing all access for taxis and privately-owned vehicles from the station at the end of this year.
The rail giant has agreed to open the New Street car park for free 30-minute pick-up and drop-offs amid criticism that the vehicle ban will cause widespread disruption and difficulties for passengers.
And buggies could be used to transport passengers who request assistance across the 450-yards to the ticket office.
But the proposals don’t go far enough for organisations representing older and disabled people and transport groups who today demanded guarantees the rail firm will keep the station accessible to all.
The distance between New Street car park and the ticket office was repeatedly raised as an issue as Network Rail was criticised for poor planning.
City transport leader Lesley Hinds hopes to reverse the Network Rail decision but the firm has vowed to press ahead with the ban later this year.
Network Rail is carrying out a £150 million upgrade of the station but campaigners said little had been done to reassure the public that the new system would not make access significantly more difficult.
In response, the firm said it is working with a range of pressure groups to ensure access to the station will be improved.
Lindsay Scott, spokesman for Age Scotland, said it agreed with the city council that the current plans are unsatisfactory. He said: “We’re in full agreement with Edinburgh City Council on this and we would ask Network Rail to hold off on the proposals until such time as proper solutions are found.
“If New Street is going to be opened up it’s going to be a very busy drop-off point and it’s quite a convoluted walk from platform 10 or 11.
“My other concern would be lift capacity. If you are wheelchair-bound you can’t use escalators and there aren’t many lifts. Network Rail are spending a huge amount of money so this station should be future-proofed for the ageing population.”
Network Rail has said it intends to allow free parking of up to 30 minutes at New Street but Mr Scott sought assurances that charges would not be brought in at a later date.
On Tuesday the Evening News told how transport leaders at Edinburgh City Council have warned Network Rail they will not pay the £995,000 which they say is needed to rebuild taxi ranks some distance away and drop-off points on street level.
David Griffiths, chief executive of the Edinburgh-based disability charity ECAS said he has met with Network Rail on two occasions and found its attitude to disability access little more than an “afterthought”.
He said: “Network Rail suggested very late in the day that New Street car park could serve as a pick-up and drop-off point, which does not take into account the significant distances involved.
“And that is just for private vehicles. The nearest taxi rank will be on Waverley Bridge, a huge distance for those with disabilities and young children. It is bitterly disappointing that Network Rail have got this far, and have everything else arranged and are now trying to tag on something for disabled people. Have we not missed an opportunity here?”
Dr Ros Altmann, director general of the Saga Group, which represents over-50s in a range of areas, said: “If there isn’t proper access for people who can’t walk very far I don’t think this proposal should be allowed to go ahead at all.
“It’s all very well for the company to say you can walk a few steps, but when you are making changes to public transport you have to consider those who are less able.
“They do say it’s about security but I’m not sure that’s really relevant.”
Edinburgh MP Mark Lazarowicz said the lack of access could at worst lead to passengers avoiding using Waverley if given another option.
He said: “There will be passengers with disabilities and other mobility issues and there is a great danger of deterring people from using this station.
“No one wants to have to drag their suitcases for 15-20 minutes after a long train journey. We need to make sure vehicles are allowed to stay or that any alternative is equally accessible.
“I have raised this once before with the minister and I am minded to raise it again. Waverley is one of the most important stations in the UK, anything which makes it more difficult for passengers is something we should all be concerned about.”
A Network Rail spokesman said the firm has worked closely with a variety of groups to make the newly revamped station as accessible as possible and is examining allowing a two-hour stay at New Street for those with disabilities.
He added any changes to the station would be widely advertised and that the firm would hold regular forums to ensure problems can be identified.
He said: “We are developing solutions to make the transition as easy as possible and are committed to working with the council to find a solution to provide taxi ranks and drop-off zones close to the station.
“The project will also consider contributing to the cost of these works.”