Disabled in a disaster? Just wait until we’ve helped all the real people, all right?

Lauredhel had a post a few days ago noting the plight of a quadriplegic man abandoned while the ablebodied passengers were evacuated during the train breakdown on the Sydney Harbour Bridge recently and told he would be evacuated “in two or three days”. (Luckily nearby construction workers showed some initiative and rescued him using a forklift.)

Apparently this was not just a regrettable lapse or someone’s wires getting crossed about emergency procedure, it’s standard operating procedure for CityRail: CityRail’s new generation of passenger carriages have been designed with no facility for evacuating wheelchairs at all.

A CityRail spokeswoman confirmed last night wheelchair passengers would not be able to access the evacuation ramps and must wait for a stretcher in an emergency on the new public-private partnership-funded trains.

The Paraplegic and Quadriplegic Association of NSW and Spinal Cord Injuries Australia fear the system will place wheelchair passengers at greater risk than able-bodied passengers.

They are worried that disabled travellers would be forgotten in a terrorist incident like the July bombings of the London Underground.

ParaQuad spokeswoman Deborah Schofield said evacuating wheelchair passengers from the side of the train posed a problem inside tunnels.

ParaQuad has urged CityRail to direct its private sector partner, Reliance Rail – a consortium that includes Downer EDI, ABN Amro and John Holland – back to the drawing board.

“It seems at this stage RailCorp and EDI have no idea how to get wheelchair users off trains in the event of an emergency,” Ms Schofield said.

How on earth can a commuter transport company in the 21st century not make adequate provision for emergency evacuation of passengers in wheelchairs? This is people’s lives at stake, not just our society’s general casual negligence of making life unnecessarily difficult for the disabled.

Why is it that whenever I hear of public infrastructure fiascos involving incompetence wrapped up in heartlessness I am not surprised that a private-public partnership bottom line is the slimy centre of the package?



Categories: economics, health, technology

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5 replies

  1. This is another example of the mess caused by the various federal, state and local levels of government getting *out* of infrastructure planning and control. I’ll cheerfully admit to being a complete lefty when it comes to my views on the role of government as a whole. I strongly believe the role of the government is to supply and maintain essential infrastructure (things like roads, dams, power lines, rail cars, bridges, hospitals, schools, nurses, teachers, police etc). If they want to pay someone else to administer the paperwork, that’s fine – but the supply and maintenance side of things is their responsibility, and shouldn’t be shucked off on “the market”.
    The knock-on effects of the government’s withdrawal from the practical side of infrastructure creation and management are wide-ranging – everything from the reduction in apprentice places (because the various government departments and agencies which were taking on apprentices have been outsourced, and it’s more cost-efficient for a private company to hire trained tradesmen, rather than training staff up), increased administrative costs (because of double-handling of paperwork), the growth of monopoly and oligopoly interests (due to a large-scale outsourcing of essential infrastructure supply) and a decrease in the public utility of most social infrastructure (because public utility isn’t strictly profitable). There’s also lot of our taxes being raised to compensate for the loss of the money coming in (because the easiest things to privatise are the ones which bring in money, and the hardest are the ones which don’t), as well as the rising prices of various public services and utilities (power, water, health, schooling etc).
    The solution is a complex one – firstly, it has to be accepted that a certain amount of government activity in various infrastructure projects and also in the maintenance of existing infrastructure is vital in order to keep the economy ticking over at a reasonable base level (it won’t stop booms and busts, but it will provide a certain amount of levelling out of the extremes). A government agency which isn’t expected to be a “profit centre” can afford to think in the long term (although I realise this will surprise the majority of our politicians, who think “long term” means “until the next election”) rather than the immediate future.
    Secondly, I think the governments have to admit the “invisible hand” of the market *does* have some applicability to their operations. Or in other words, the simplest way to deal with the current undersupply of people like teachers, policemen and nurses is to increase the wages paid to the people who do these jobs. Cutting the bureaucratic idiocy which surrounds them would do nicely too, but start by at least raising the wages, so there’s an incentive for young graduates to *stay* in the field. Listen to their feedback about the jobs they’re doing – they’re the experts, not the bureaucrats in the admin centres.
    Thirdly, I’d like to see a return to things like state-owned and run banks and a greater emphasis on regulation within the economy (particularly the finance and banking sectors). If there’s a big financial scandal in (for example) the insurance industry, the regulators should be provided with *more* teeth, not less. Yes, I’m sure the industry bodies will scream blue bloody murder, but if they’re not capable of self-regulation, they have to settle for the government ensuring they’re toeing the line.

  2. (PS: Sorry about the screed. I didn’t realise how long I’d been ranting.)

  3. I don’t know all the details of the story, but why couldn’t they get say three policemen or firefighters or someone who is trained for these types of emergencies to carry him off the train, while the third person carried his wheelchair. Why all the hours of waiting and hassle with a forklift – although at least someone put some thought into it and rescued the poor man. How could you tell someone you’d get back to them in two to three days?

  4. Exactly, Mindy. It appears that when Macauley phoned 000 on his mobile phone that emergency services quite rightly phoned CityRail for more details, and were told that CityRail would handle it, and then CityRail told him to sit and wait!
    Of course Police Rescue or the SES could have got him out of there. If CityRail had just admitted “we don’t have a plan for this, help us help him”.

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