A woman with sight and mobility problems who travelled by train for the first time in 12 years has urged other people to “give the train a try”.

Pauline Cherry from Rodmell enjoyed the journey with Southern so much she is now considering further trips by train including looking at rail holidays.

Her trip on Monday (23 May) from Lewes to Seaford and back was part of a special week of activities organised by Community Rail Network to connect communities to their railways.

Pauline, 79, who runs a B&B in Rodmell and is the “parish pump” correspondent for the Sussex Express newspaper, said: “I’ve used trains all my life, I love them. I used to go by train to see my grandmother, I used to go to London to meet friends, I used to go to Gatwick Airport to travel abroad.

“You’re sitting there and can see all the beautiful scenery. They’re very comfortable, they do appeal to me.”

She has slight problems with her sight and mobility so needs assistance and reassurance when travelling. She had not been on a train for 12 years because she spent time caring for her partner then the Covid pandemic struck.

A good day out

After her journey, she commented: “My trip was so enjoyable and informative. I think people should give the train a try to get places. You can get to a lot of places by train and have a good day out.”

Pauline had previously expressed her concerns about using trains on the line because of the gap between the train and the platform at stations.

She wrote in March: “I haven’t been on a train for years now and won’t in the near future go on one without being with someone. Older people are becoming more and more isolated by the hazards of modern life.”

Lovely staff

Her comments were noticed by Sussex Downs Line community rail officer Paul Bromley who works for the Southeast Communities Rail Partnership based at Lewes railway station. He then organised an accompanied trip for Pauline in partnership with Southern.

Southern staff at Lewes station showed her the process for buying tickets, using the ticket barriers, finding the correct platforms, taking lifts to and from the platforms, and explained the passenger assistance scheme for those people needing help on journeys. They provided ramps for her to get on and off the trains.

Pauline said: “The staff were all lovely and nice. I was very impressed with the stations and how clean they were.”

She added: “I’ve seen all those TV programmes about train trips. I’m now considering a rail holiday.”

Welcome back

Carl Martin, Accessibility Lead at Govia Thameslink Railway, which runs Southern, said: “We were delighted to welcome Pauline back to the train and glad to learn she enjoyed her trip to the seaside. It’s great that this ‘Try a Train’ journey has helped Pauline feel more confident about using the service and we look forward to welcoming her on board in the future.

“We’re always happy to accommodate customers with specific travel needs and we want to help people gain independence through our rail service by highlighting the assistance we have available. Passengers can either turn up and request assistance at the station or now, for added reassurance, book ahead just two hours in advance of catching a train, at any time of the day.”

Passengers can request assistance by phoning 0800 138 1016 (textphone 0800 138 1018), visiting the Assisted Travel section of the Southern website or downloading the Passenger Assist app from National Rail Enquiries.

Connecting communities

Jools Townsend, chief executive of Community Rail Network, said: “Community Rail Week – and its call to action of ‘give the train a try’ – is all about connecting local communities with their railways and encouraging and enabling more people to travel sustainably by train.

“We want to help people who feel less confident with train travel to give it a go and get across the positive difference it makes switching even the occasional journey from car to public transport: for our planet, healthy living and local communities.”

Jacqueline Starr, Chief Executive Officer of the Rail Delivery Group, said: “This Community Rail Week, we’re looking forward to welcoming everyone onto our network and connecting them to the people and places they love. We encourage people to give the train a try not only because it’s one of the greenest forms of transport, but also because it boosts local businesses and the wider economy.”