Have wheelchair, will travel...

  Wheelchair space on Eurostar train

A wheelchair space on a Eurostar.  An accessible toilet is right next door.  There are similar wheelchair spaces on Thalys trains from Brussels to Amsterdam & Cologne, and on TGVs from Lille to destinations all over France, and from Paris to Switzerland & Milan.

If you're a wheelchair user, you can easily book a wheelchair space on Eurostar from London to Lille, Paris, Brussels or Amsterdam, then book an onwards wheelchair space on a train to other French cities, Switzerland, Milan or Barcelona.  You can even book yourself a wheelchair-accessible couchette on the sleeper train from Paris or Brussels to Salzburg or Vienna.  On this page I'll tell you how to book yourself a wheelchair space on these trains online, or if you'd rather talk to someone and have them book it for you, I'll explain who to call.

Although I'm familiar with all the trains, accessible travel is not something I'm 100% qualified to research myself, so I'd really value any feedback.  If you can help add to this page, please get in touch!

small bullet point  Step 1, travel on trains with disabilities in Britain

small bullet point  Step 2, travel with disabilities on Eurostar to Lille, Paris, Brussels or Amsterdam

small bullet point  Step 3, onward travel beyond Eurostar to other countries...

small bullet point  If you'd rather talk to someone, who to call?

Step 1, travel with disabilities within Britain...

Step 2, travel with disabilities on Eurostar to Lille, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam...

How to change stations in Paris:  Accessible taxis & buses...

Step 3, travel with disabilities beyond Eurostar to other countries...

...to France:

...to Switzerland:

...to Italy:

...to Spain:

...to Germany:

...to Austria:

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If you'd rather talk to someoneWho to call?

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Traveller's reports:  With a wheelchair from London to Croatia!

Traveller Andrew Farrow went from London to Croatia by train in a wheelchair:  I’m a permanent wheelchair user, with a 'normal' manual wheelchair.  I need a ramp to get on to a train.  I can, with assistance, transfer to a normal seat and my wheelchair can be folded away - people with bigger or electric wheelchairs might have a different experience. Because of the hassle of sorting out ramps and assistance, I’d allow a minimum of at least 30 minutes to change trains at any station, preferably a lot longer. And despite the European Community supposedly being a place of common rules and regulations, this does not seem to apply to rail travel in a wheelchair, where each country has its own approach. Each country has different rules about companions or carers and a different mechanism for dealing with wheelchairs.  From my  experience so far, you need to be willing to be lifted in and out of trains, to accept not always being able to get to a toilet, to have to transfer from your chair and to have a lot of patience.  That said, because of my wheelchair we met far more people and had far more wonderful encounters with strangers than we would have done otherwise.  Everywhere people were enormously friendly and helpful: partly as a result of my London–Split trip, I’ve decided I will now travel in Europe only by train.

I booked my Eurostar ticket online, a very easy process. The Paris–Split travel was all arranged by Deutsch Bahn. However, Deutsch Bahn could only arrange assistance in Germany, not Croatia.

1. London - Paris:  Eurostar is wonderful for wheelchair users. There are only two wheelchair spaces in the entire train, so it’s worth booking early if you have to catch a specific train. Assistance does not need to be booked in advance, you don’t need to turn up especially early and you can check in at the normal check in desks. A (very grand) ramp is provided in both London and Paris (Gare du Nord).

2. Paris - Munich:  Following your advice, we caught the overnight train from Paris Gare de l’Est [sadly discontinued from December 2014], leaving at 20:05, arriving Munich 07:10. This was a fantastic journey: we had an entire compartment to ourselves, although others could access the toilet! Instead of a four person couchette, our compartment was a two person couchette with a lot of extra room for wheeling about. Similarly, the toilet was enormous, with huge amounts of room. With this level of luxury, I doubt whether they can accommodate more than one wheelchair user, so book early. You need to get to Gare de L’Est at least half an hour before the train leaves and go to the Special Assistance office to find a staff member who will then find a ramp for you. We had to wait in Munich for a little while for a ramp to be found.

3. Munich – Zagreb:  Deutsch Bahn wouldn’t allow us to catch the suggested 08:27 from Munich to Zagreb as they said that there wouldn’t be enough time to make the change from one train to another (That actually turned out quite well, because when we arrived in Munich, we discovered it was Oktoberfest, so had time to walk down to the venue and experience literally tens of thousands of Germans in lederhosen celebrating and sampling enormous quantities of beer). Instead, they booked us on to the direct train to Zagreb leaving Munich at 12:27 and arriving Zagreb at 20:53, no changes necessary. Getting on the train in Munich was fine. However, this journey would not be possible for someone who cannot transfer from their wheelchair: I had to transfer from my chair to a seat at the end of the compartment as the corridor was too narrow to wheel down. There is no separate wheelchair space, and my chair had to be folded up. Given this experience, I doubt whether the toilet was accessible (I didn’t check). It was a comfortable train though, and the conductor very helpfully brought food and beer to our seats.

I was unsure what would happen when we got to Zagreb or Split. Whilst I had found contact details for Croatian Railways and did have an email conversation discussing what train times and carriages I was in (“We need these details so we could be able to organized your transportation”), I didn’t actually have confirmation that assistance or ramps would be available. In Zagreb, a ramp was eventually found and we descended. It’s an accessible station with no steps.  We stayed the night in the Esplanade Hotel, about five minutes walk from the station and a glorious Art Deco hotel with very reasonable prices. It used to be the preferred venue for travellers stopping off en route on the old Orient Express leg from Istanbul to Zagreb apparently. This allowed us a morning to explore Zagreb, where there’s an original carriage from the Orient Express that’s been turned into a bar.

4. Zagreb – Split:  We left Zagreb at 14:04, arriving Split at 20:37. We arrived at Zagreb station 45 minutes before the train was due to leave and after a lot of confusion and discussion at the information desk, got taken to a side office and eventually a ramp was arranged. Again, I had to transfer from my wheelchair. Again, I doubt whether there were accessible toilets on board. At Split, no ramp but lots of strong helpful men to get me down. An accessible station, no steps.

Traveller Jill Lindenbauer travelled from London to Valencia by train with her young son who uses a wheelchair.  She reports:  "I feel so lucky to have Ebbsfleet International on my doorstep, and the staff which assisted William and I certainly made us feel like VIPs.  It was no trouble boarding the train and as William's carer we were privileged to sit in 1st class as this is where the wheelchair seating is situated, even though we only paid 2nd class fares.  Immediately we were asked if we wanted a drink, and a meal was provided, which I wasn't expecting. It certainly got the holiday off to a good start, and whilst travelling I received a call from the English-speaking G7 Taxi service in France to say that our wheelchair-accessible taxi would be waiting when we arrived in Gare Du Nord.  This is a quick and easy service to use and I booked our taxi in advance from the comfort of my own living-room.

When William and I reached Gare Du Nord that sunny evening there was the same buzz of activity as the ramp was prepared for the wheelchair, and a porter took my bags. I soon spotted my name on a white piece of card, but I'm guessing the taxi driver spotted my son and I as we made our way along the platform. The taxi driver took my bag and led the way to his vehicle outside. He swiftly organised the ramp and pushed William in his chair inside, where he secured William's wheelchair to the car floor with belts. The politeness and assistance of the taxi driver made our short trip effortless and at Gare D'Austerlitz he escorted us to the Information Office.  The taxi cost 40-50 euros, but the meter was probably running as we are leaving the train and as we are about the last to leave as we wait for special assistance this is a small price to pay.

At Gare d'Austerlitz the woman in the information desk shook her head as she saw my little boy's heavy manual wheelchair surrounded by luggage, and made hand signals to indicate how small the trenhotel to Barcelona was.  Around 8pm it arrived. The guard checked my ticket, which clearly stated "disabled passenger," and showed me our Gran Clase 2-berth sleeper, which was the first one adjacent to the dining-car. Unfortunately I could see that there was no way I was going to be able to board the train or enter our cabin with the wheelchair, which was just a few centimetres too wide. So I unbelted William and sat him in the cabin propped up with some luggage and quickly dismantled the wheelchair which divides into three pieces, the main chair does not and this I placed on the second seat, the wheels disappeared into the shower area, and we soon had the cabin looking homely, as I sat William on my lap.

Dinner arrived as it was evident that we wouldn't be very popular blocking the dining-car. I was quite content eating and watching the scenery, but like most children my son was not happy with his dinner, even though there was a children's menu, so one of our rucksacks carried extra food supplies just in case! Our bed was made and sleep was welcome. All our luggage was on the top berth and made the cabin nice and spacious. The rolling and rattling of the carriages made me feel like I was being rocked in a cradle. Morning arrived, breakfast was served and Barcelona appeared. William and I were sitting in Parc De La Ciutadella in Barcelona at 9am, waiting for our final connection to Valencia.  At 10am we went to the Information Desk at the station, where they were expecting us. Unfortunately there was no ramp to be seen, and so I carried William on board whilst the female assistant asked a member of the public to help her place the wheelchair on the train. There was a  special area for this, which is called the "H" Seat. In comparison to the Trenhotel this train looked newer and wider.  The scenery along the coast was breathtaking, making us feel like peeping toms, as we would spurt through a dark tunnel to be met by bright sunlight and naked bodies on golden beaches. The journey passed quickly as the train filled and emptied at seaside stations. At one time the wheelchair was covered by a sea of other people's suitcases, which was a good thing William sat with me for most of the time. As the train pulled into Valencia I was geared up to take William off myself, but the three young men in uniforms bearing the wheelchair logo were already in the process of operating the ramp, and we became a fascinating spectacle for the Spanish public.

My tearful sister was there to greet us, waiting to hear of our travels, which I found to be fun and hassle free. Unlike the madness of airports and wondering if you are going to see your bags again I found the whole experience graceful and dignified. William and I and the faithful wheelchair by our side feel like we actually travelled and saw life, rather than being catapulted into the air, looking at the sky for a couple of hours, and then being trundled onto a bus to go and search for our luggage.  When we returned we knew the process so it was even easier and the same taxi driver asked how we got on.  The only problem was both lifts at Gare Du Nord were out of action until 10th August, but I carried William up the escalator and my assistant at the station took the wheelchair.


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