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Author Topic: Travel with an owl  (Read 3469 times)
grahame
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« on: May 18, 2019, 06:45:15 am »

Part One

This week, IsamBIRD and I travelled from our home in Melksham to Reading and back (to take part in Community Rail in the City, organised by ACoRP to promote Community Rail).

Background

From https://minervasowls.org

Quote
Minerva’s Owls of Bath 2018 was a major public art sculpture trail featuring over 80 individually decorated, super-sized owl sculptures displayed across the World Heritage city of Bath and surrounding region from June - September 2018.

All 82 owls, plus two new owlets were gathered together for the first and last time at the Owls Hoot Farewell weekend on the Bath Recreation Ground for a weekend of feathery fun 29-30 September. Thousands of owls fans visited to say their final farewells before the colourful sculptures flew off to the charity auction on 17th October.

The auction raised £140,000 and the owls have now flown off to their new homes across the UK, as well as to nests in Hungary, France and Canada!

IsamBIRD - sponsored by Great Western Railway - is one of the Owls. The largest indeed, with his Brunellian top hat. Some say how is ugly; I say he is "full of character" - but perhaps the fact the people look just skin deep lead to my auction bid, rather to my surprise, being the winning bid.  So I've adopted/fostered/own IsamBIRD.  A private purchase, but the intent was always for him and I to volunteer to help raise awareness of public transport matters subsequently.

Isambird's journey last week was fun but also has very serious undertones. He stands on a plinth - 1000mm x 650mm which is a little within the maximum size of a wheelchair to conveyed by train.  He's on wheels (as is a wheelchair!!!) and with brakes fitted on those wheels. And he's 1700mm tall in his top hat, which is just slightly shorter than your typical standing modern adult.  And as such, he provided me with the opportunity to try out travelling with a wheelchair companion by train - a learning experience which turned out to be so revealing and I'll be writing up in following posts in this thread.



As footnotes to part 1
* Taking the owl by train was pre-authorised by GWR.
* Had wheelchair / other passengers needed the facilities, they would have had priority and we would have dropped back.
* A huge "thank you" is due to the operational staff all along the way who were nothing but helpful.
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Chris from Nailsea
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« Reply #1 on: May 19, 2019, 12:21:37 am »

Having helped grahame with helping IsamBIRD Kingdom BrunOWL back to his perch in a hotel after the Community Rail in the City event on Wednesday, I have a couple of points.  Grin

Firstly, he (the bird, not grahame) drew some very welcome attention to our stand, on the transfer deck at Reading station.  Wink

Secondly, IsamBIRD was much more restrained than the pigeons, who were dropping their poo all over the place.  Roll Eyes

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grahame
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« Reply #2 on: May 21, 2019, 09:27:21 am »

A belated part 2 - sorry it's late / been rather rushed off my feet.  Also bitty in presentation!
Pictures in this post are compressed for quicker loading.  Please ask me for high res!

Part 2

A journey with IsamBIRD - Spa Road, Melksham to an exhibition booth in Reading

Recap ... last Wednesday, I exhibited IsamBIRD Kingdom BrownOWL at Community Rail in the City in Reading ... which involved taking him from Melksham to Reading on Tuesday and back on Thursday. He's just within wheelchair size limits to take on the train, and as we were going to a rail show, it was natural to take him by train ... so with a letter or permission from GWR, we set off.  And we learned quite a bit about taking a wheelchair on a train!

Planning is important ... but the best layed plans go wrong.   The idea was the 19:12 from Westbury to Reading on Tuesday, but that train had ideas of its own and was running the best part of an hour late.  My contact / help an Reading couldn't be kept hanging around for an hour, so we switched to the 18:47 from Melksham with a change at Swindon.  Return was left open, but in the end we returned from Reading to Melksham (arriving 11:11) with a change at Chippenham.  A 158, a 5 car IET, a 9 car IET and a 165!

So what did we learn?

* It's not just about the train - it's about total journey, including getting to the station at the start of the journey and from the station at the end of the journey.

We have a c-a-r that's a big and now somewhat mature people mover, and tipped on his back this can be an owl mover too. As we are somewhat mature too, insurance costs are not out of this world for the vehicle, and IsamBIRD is light enough for Lisa and me to lift and swivel him.  An easy journey to Melksham Station.

* Put on the brakes and each pause, remember to take them off at each un-pause.  IsamBIRD didn't run away at any point, but without care he could easily have done so.  The platform at Melksham was re-sloped when it was extended and is now very much less of a risk.

* Any self-respecting owl travels with considerable baggage. And the handling of this in addition to himself is to be considered - just as with a wheelchair passenger consideration needs to be given to how they, and their helper / companion is they have one, handles their additional baggage

IsamBIRD's case was strapped onto him, and on the up journey, so was his perch-board - so there's the extra unwieldiness as well as the wheelbase and owl himself!

Is it purely a worry for me (as a born worrier) as to whether there will be someone to help at source and destination of each leg / interchange?  On the local train, with a train manager, no issue; just 2 or 3 carriages, clearly there on the platform as the train pulls in to help load, and a brief chat (or in the case of an owl, perhaps a longer chat as he's so unusual) ... but the worry about dropping off the IET.  At Reading on the way up - great - gentleman with a ramp was there as the train crew had sent a message ahead.  They were said to have done so at Chippenham on the way back too, but help not there as the train arrived.  As IsamBIRD's assistant, I was able to open door, stand there and wave ... and long after everyone else had left and joined the train, the ramp arrived.  In the end, no delay to the train as it was running early (IET in what is still an HST timetable) but I have to wonder about how I would have done had I been wheelchair bound without mobile helper, or if the train had been tighter on time.

Surface is important with wheels!   Perhaps Isambird's wheels are small and especially sensitive, but his rolling along ranges from fantastically easy to really difficult.  There's a section of platform 1 at Swindon with a rough surface - behind the statin building at the London end. And the herringbone pavement from Reading station towards the town (and towards the Ibis hotel where we stayed) is modern but truly awful already.  OK on foot maybe, but on wheels I really wonder at the quality of how it was laid - perhaps more to look good and produce a photo opportunity than to be long term durable, and now a maintenance nightmare?

I love a good pair of lips. But I found lips between surfaces a very real problem.  And so often they occur at awkward places, like doors one's struggling to keep open to get through, or entranced to lifts.  We couldn't use steps and had a few cases of "when is a step NOT a step".  Being fair to the railways, the worst was in our hotel with a fire door, a sharp turn, a lift and a secure bedroom door that had to be card operated, followed by putting the card into a power saver, contrived to make it difficult.   VERY grateful for the help from forum members getting through that doorway.

Even on the new IETs, the ramps from platform to train seem much cruder than the equivalent on a bus. A manual foldout section is, I suppose, not a problem.  But then the ramps on the IET engage via two bolts (well, they look like bolts) on the ramp which needs to be jiggled around to have them engage and it would be so easy to try and use the ramp without them properly engaged.  Everyone on staff (and now myself as a traveller using this facility) know the issue / risks and teak steps to ensure proper engagement before use, but I really found myself wondering whether there could / should be a better way, or whether what's being done is fir for purpose and anything else would be a big spend with little gain.

While on the topic of ramps, edgings noted to ensure that a chair / owl does not go over the side and down into the gap between the train and the platform edge. A personal nervousness at that point - not so much for the chair / owl itself, but more for the luggage and bits and pieces that go with it and ma bump off.  Just a worry with the owl?   No - also with pushchairs, and indeed with a friend with a wheelchair I travelled with from Cardiff to Bristol on Saturday - lots of bits and pieces and papers and pens attached and so easy for something to drop.

Anyway - HUGE thank you to all the staff who helped our travels.  Lots of interest, lovely conversations, professional help on the ground.   Information systems (9 car promised, waited in zone 6, 5 car rolled in an rush up the platforms) need to be right - and if they can't be right be switched out so they don't give wrong data.  Contacts and thinking ahead not perfect either.  Designers need to think not only about "can a wheelchair get along here" but "can a wheelchair operate easily here" - lips, rough surfaces, tight doorways.

IsamBIRD is now roosting in our hallway - I expect he would accept invites to other events should they be appropriate and forthcoming ...





















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Bmblbzzz
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« Reply #3 on: May 21, 2019, 09:57:53 am »

Informative, thank you. Some problems I would never have thought of (such as items falling off owl/wheelchair/pushchair etc into gap).
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« Reply #4 on: May 23, 2019, 02:12:10 pm »

Isambird's experience as a wheelchair traveller and Grahame's as his companion prompt me to write about our experience of the same (husband in wheelchair, self as travelling companion). Overall our journeys have gone well, although they were only short and direct ie to Bristol and Torquay from Taunton. I am more than happy to let the platform staff push my husband up steep ramps or battle their way through a crowded vestibule. Most of the problems encountered are outwith their control - the locked, accessible toilet; luggage left in the wheelchair space; high spring tide at Dawlish, causing the whole Cross Country train to be transferred to a Great Western; one ramp at Taunton, when two wheelchairs were to be loaded into first class and standard, causing the train to leave five minutes late. In the face of such difficulties, they are (as are we) uncomplaining and resilient.

One peculiarity of the booking system is that it can't print tickets (well, as far as advance, XCountry is concerned) with the correct seat numbers for a wheelchair user and companion so you have to refer to the Passenger Assist email for verification.   
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grahame
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« Reply #5 on: May 23, 2019, 09:21:00 pm »

Isambird's experience as a wheelchair traveller and Grahame's as his companion prompt me to write about our experience of the same (husband in wheelchair, self as travelling companion). ...

I am ... fulfilled (or a little more filled than I was before) in information as to how people travel with reduced mobility and have earned that much more respect for the modified elements to their travel.

Quote
Overall our journeys have gone well, although they were only short and direct ie to Bristol and Torquay from Taunton. I am more than happy to let the platform staff push my husband up steep ramps or battle their way through a crowded vestibule. Most of the problems encountered are outwith their control - the locked, accessible toilet; luggage left in the wheelchair space; high spring tide at Dawlish, causing the whole Cross Country train to be transferred to a Great Western; one ramp at Taunton, when two wheelchairs were to be loaded into first class and standard, causing the train to leave five minutes late. In the face of such difficulties, they are (as are we) uncomplaining and resilient.

One peculiarity of the booking system is that it can't print tickets (well, as far as advance, XCountry is concerned) with the correct seat numbers for a wheelchair user and companion so you have to refer to the Passenger Assist email for verification.   

Isambird and I found the staff exceedingly helpful - and I know that's NOT because he's a big bird (I travelled with a chap in a wheelchair on Saturday too, and was helping with some planning tonight for another person) ... it's the system and the old architecture that gives the issues.

Eliza - please keep posting experiences, and thank you for those already shared.


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grahame
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« Reply #6 on: October 27, 2019, 09:12:23 pm »

Imitation is the best form of flattery

From Rail Advent

Quote
Three fibreglass cows travelled around Cambridge on a Thameslink train to celebrate the rail operator’s partnership with an upcoming art trail ‘Cows About Cambridge’.




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