'It makes me so angry': Pensioner forced to drive disabled son 20km to catch train to work

'It makes me so angry': Pensioner forced to drive disabled son 20km to catch train to work
Pina and Joseph Cassoni. Pic: Seamus Farrelly

A Meath pensioner who is forced to travel with her disabled adult son on a train to and from Dublin every day due a lack of help for wheelchair users says the stress of the commute is wearing her out.

Pina Cassoni (aged 67) has taken on the gruelling task of travelling 20km from her home in Skyrne, Co. Meath, to the M3 Parkway alongside her son Joseph (aged 41) who is paralysed from the waist down every morning to ensure he can safely access the safety clearance gap between the train and the platform on his 40-minute journey to work.

She makes the same journey again in the evening to help her son cross the clearance gap again and bring him home.

People who want to access assistance are required to give Irish Rail four hours notice.

The mother and son, who have become so disillusioned with the flawed system, say the service was a “nightmare” when Joseph began commuting last year and they were depending on “a guessing game” as to whether someone would actually turn up to help.

It resulted in Pina having no choice other than to accompany her son to and from Dublin twice a day, travelling nearly four hours per day in total.

Pina said that in the last few weeks kindhearted and dedicated staff members have been “trying to bridge the gap” for the service and are taking it upon themselves to try and ensure Joseph is accommodated from the Docklands side on his return trip. However, it is not always possible and exhausted Pina has to be ready to make the journey.

They are calling on the Government to make public transport more accessible for wheelchair users.

Pina said: "Joseph gets the train at the M3 Parkway into the Docklands to work every day. Sometimes there will be somebody there to help him and sometimes there isn't, you just never know.

"We have gotten to know the staff over the last number of months and they have been fantastic to us.

When I make the call into the station to inquire if there will be anyone to assist Joseph sometimes if they can, they will arrange for someone to come from another station to help him but they do that on their own initiative they do not have the resources that they need.

"It makes me so angry. Able-bodied people can come and go without having to give advanced warning, they just get on the train. Nobody knows what it's like unless you have a loved one in a wheelchair."

"I would love for one of those TDS to sit in a wheelchair and go through what Joseph has to go through every day and see if they could manage it. It is wearing me out mentally and physically but I do it because I have no choice. He is all I have."

Joseph said he resents having to rely on assistance at all and points out that public transport systems in other countries are more inclusive.

He said: "I understand that the staff need to be given notice so they can be there but if I at the last minute get an extra workload on and I need to stay an extra hour, it doesn't give me that flexibility.

The trainee auditor was just seven when he contracted a rare virus as a result of the chickenpox that left him unable to walk.

Pina and Joseph Cassoni. Pic: Seamus Farrelly
Pina and Joseph Cassoni. Pic: Seamus Farrelly

Joseph said: "On days I know who is working and I know I can trust that person, I feel a bit more confident. Most of the staff are really helpful and go out of their way to do their best.

"When I go into the station, look around and see if I can see the person and if there is nobody there I have to go up and knock on the train driver's window and because I'm down low, I can't even see in.

Joseph described one time he one evening he tried to board a train without his mother but actually fell off the ramp.

"One evening there was no one there to meet me and the driver had to put the ramp up for me to access the train. When county councils build ramps they have to be at a certain angle so they are not too steep so if you can imagine these are makeshift portable ramps and they just plonk them down and put them up the steps so they are pretty steep.

"I have heard that the staff are told not to physically touch the person that they are helping so this driver puts the ramp down, puts his foot on the side of it to steady it and left me to go.

I tried going up on it by myself and the next thing I knew the chair was tipping backwards and I fell completely back on the ground. I was mortified.

"My ideal situation would be not to require assistance at all. If I could, like the way the Luas works, just get on and off by myself I'd be chuffed. Even if they had some sort of mechanised ramp.”

Joseph's mum Pina explains how the condition eventually left him unable to walk.

Pina said: "He got chickenpox when he was seven. A doctor called to the house one night and when she saw him she said wrap him up in a blanket and bring him straight to Drogheda.

"He was sent to Crumlin and he was diagnosed with Transverse Myelitis, a rare neurological condition in which the spinal cord is inflamed.

"The doctor told me that he didn't know if he would pull through and if he did there was a high chance that he could be brain-damaged. I felt like my world was falling apart.

"He was in an isolation ward and I remember going back to sit by his bed and all I did was cry that whole night. I never prayed as much in my life.

Joseph Cassoni. Pic: Seamus Farrelly
Joseph Cassoni. Pic: Seamus Farrelly

"Thankfully he did pull through but they told me he would never walk again. I just broke down, I was absolutely brokenhearted.

"He spent ten-and-a-half months in hospital between Drogheda, Crumlin and the Rehab in Dun Laoghaire. Everyone says you are too overprotective with him, but when you only have one and there is nobody else you do whatever you can to keep them safe."

Joseph said he is frustrated that he has to depend on others to use the rail network.

He said: "National transport should be accessible there is no real excuse for it.

"It is quite frustrating at times. I hate depending on people when really I shouldn't need to."

A spokesperson for Irish Rail has said: "While we are continually working to reduce advised notice periods, and are in the process of developing an accessibility app to give customers greater assurance that assistance is booked and provided, assistance will be required for the foreseeable future due to the safety clearance gap between the train and the platform.

"As part of new fleet orders, we will be seeking tenderers to enhance accessibility access further to and from new trains, and all elements of our investment programme will ensure accessibility is prioritised."

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