Irish Rail is phasing out ‘quiet carriages’ on all trains due to the “almost universal use” of mobile phones.
The majority of services on the Cork-Dublin route have a dedicated quiet carriage but, as of this week, they are being phased out.
“It’s a trend internationally, this move away from quiet zones, and it’s based on the ubiquitous use of phones,” Barry Kenny of Irish Rail told the Irish Examiner.
“The decision was made this week. It was something we have kept an eye on.”
On eight-carriage trains, one carriage normally had a dedicated quiet zone.
Now, as each train is brought in for standard maintenance, the “markers” that indicate a carriage as a quiet zone, will be removed.
There has been some criticism of the decision, as public transport, it was indicated, can be a very challenging experience for people with autism.
“It is very disappointing that Irish Rail has taken this measure with no consultation with the autism community,” said Adam Harris, founder of AsIAm, an autism charity.
“It is very important that the sensory process needs of people with autism are recognised as accessibility needs and considered by public services such as Irish Rail.
“A key challenge we experience frequently is that those with autism do not recognise what sensory overload means.”
Mr Harris said the levels of day-to-day conversations or general background noise may cause “extreme discomfort and pain” for people with autism.
“For a person with autism, routine and a calm sensory environment can often be very important; as a result, any measure put in place by such services to support autistic people should be built upon, not reduced.”
Mr Harris said isolation and unemployment often affect people with autism. “Having accessible public transport is a key tool in addressing this,” he said.
Irish Rail, meanwhile, said it is rolling out the provision of customer services officers on trains in 2018, in light of the phasing out of quiet carriages. Mr Harris has requested a meeting with them.
A 2016 report found that one in 65 schoolchildren have a diagnosis of autism. The National Council for Special Education’s report showed a far higher number than a 2013 study, where it was thought it was only one in 100.
Mr Harris estimates if there were one in 65 students with a diagnosis, the figure would then play out in the general population, in the absence of verified data or a general register.
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