Britain’s first autism-friendly train line connects Blackburn to Manchester

A film featuring Britain’s first autism-friendly railway line, the Todmorden Curve, was shown during Autism Awareness Week.

The Todmorden Curve service connects Blackburn to Manchester Victoria and was reopened in 2015 to improve connections between the areas. It was then established as the UK’s first autism-friendly railway line in 2019, with help from train operating company Northern.

The film, featuring a tour of Blackburn Station, provides practical advice for people who are less confident about using stations. It contains information on bus stops, parking, bike storage, platforms, entrances, where to buy tickets, seats, toilets and how to open train doors and information screens.

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Christine Flintoff-Smith, Head of Autism Accreditation from the National Autistic Society, said: “There is a lot of unpredictability on public transport, with cancellations and not knowing where you are supposed to be or who to talk to. It is advantageous for people with autism to know the environment in advance. they come in and what is there to help them.

“The film is a brilliant job of dispelling questions about finding information. It helps people who may have decided not to travel before because they feel anxious or overwhelmed by travel, which obviously isolates them from a large part of society.

“For example, if your nearest town is 30 minutes away by train, you won’t want to apply for a job, see friends or go to school. This can lead to a lot of loneliness and mental health issues, but with the film and the autism-friendly service, people can plan their trips in advance and not feel so anxious.

Some of the main aspects of setting up an autism-friendly train service include training staff on how to deal with someone who shows signs of anxiety, providing advice on paying for tickets and the presentation of the layout of the station itself. This then allows people with autism who are traveling alone, or their families who are looking after them, to be aware of the station and to be able to plan their journeys in advance.

Christine continued: “Guidance can take the form of showing someone what a train ticket looks like, what a pay station looks like and where resources or trained staff are in the station if someone has need to ask questions or need help.It also helps for the station to have clear signage and staff to be aware of quiet spaces if someone is anxious and needs to be taken to an area with less people or less noise.

“The Todmorden Curve service has a clear website with up-to-date information and maps of the site as well as photos of key areas like the train station, bus station and local store which are all crucial and the types of areas people may struggle with. It’s also important to note that sometimes people think that making train stations and railway lines autistic-friendly has to come with big changes, but it’s really about small changes and being more respectful of the environment.

“It helps open up a whole new world for people who would otherwise have stayed home.”

This week is World Autism Acceptance Week, which has been organized by the National Autism Society, aimed at increasing acceptance and understanding of autism as well as raising vital funds. The film featuring the Todmorden Curve service was created by Community Rail Lancashire in partnership with Northern and the National Autistic Society.

Katie Douglas of Community Rail Lancashire, identifies and delivers projects that support people with accessibility issues. She said: “In 2019, we worked with Northern and the National Autistic Society to enable more confident train travel for passengers with autism and their friends and family.

We have created 10 films including Blackburn which is on the Todmorden curve. Autism is part of everyday life for at least 2.8 million people, and unexpected changes when using public transport can be overwhelming.

“World Autism Acceptance Week is a great opportunity to publicize our resort visit films so that more people can benefit from them. of them. By giving people the opportunity to experience public transport in a positive and guided context, we can give them confidence for future use.

“We’ve had great feedback from people who have seen these films and by spreading the word about them, we hope more people can benefit from them.”

Accrington, Rose Grove, Burnley Manchester Road, Todmorden, Walsden, Littleborough, Smithy Bridge, Rochdale and Manchester Victoria are among other resorts featured in autism-friendly tour films. To find out more about autism-friendly railway lines and for other support and resources on help available in the Lancashire area, visit the National Autistic Society website here.

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