By Denise O'Donoghue
A man who uses a wheelchair was last week left alone on a locked train in Dublin, as no staff were available to help him disembark.
Gerard Gallagher was travelling between Sligo and Connolly Station in Dublin and was left alone on the train in an empty station after the other passengers had departed.
There was no staff member available to provide a ramp and assist him from the train.
He told the Irish Examiner that it is not the first time he has experienced something like this on a train, but it was the first time in many years that he felt "completely disabled".
"I had to leave my mobility scooter in a wheelchair area and find a seat in a nearby carriage," Mr Gallagher says.
"On arrival in Connolly Station, I had to wait for all the other passengers to disembark so that I could get to my mobility scooter more easily.
"I was by the door awaiting assistance very shortly after the last passenger in my carriage had disembarked. I waited for approximately five minutes and then realised that there were no Irish Rail staff members coming forward to provide the ramp.
"The power to the train was turned off and I was left in complete darkness for 35 minutes. All the doors closed around me. I tried contacting the office for Connolly Station by phone but there was no reply, shortly after this my phone died as there were no charge points on this train.
"I had no way of contacting anyone. I was completely alone and no one knew where I was."
Mr Gallagher pressed the emergency buttons at the wheelchair location and in the nearby toilet but he received no response. 30 minutes later, a cleaner on a nearby platform heard his shuts for help.
"I had to constantly shout for 30 minutes to try and raise the alarm. Eventually a cleaner on another platform heard me and staff members came to assist.
"It was the first time in many years that I felt completely disabled. I was trapped in the train and I thought I was going to be stuck there overnight."
A formal complaint to Irish Rail was filed by Mr Gallagher last week, who says it is an important equality issue.
"This is an equality issue, all passengers have the right to the same standard of service," Mr Gallagher says.
"This incident demonstrates the equality if it suits us, or if we think of it attitude that is so common. We provide a lesser standard of service, to certain people in our society."
Mr Gallagher feels if all the platforms were one level, allowing him to roll his wheelchair on and off the trains, then incidents like this would be far less common.
He has been a regular user of the train service for many years, having used it to travel for college, and he says it is not the first time this has happened to him.
"It has happened to me more than once, and I complained to Irish Rail in 2008 and 2010 but clearly nothing has happened to stop it from happening again. The reason I've spoken out now is so there will be more awareness. I contacted the Disability Federation about it and from that a number of people have told me this has happened to them too, so it's not an isolated incident."
Irish Rail are currently investigating the complaint and Mr Gallagher is waiting for a response.
When contacted by the newspaper, a spokesperson for Irish Rail called the situation "unacceptable".
"What happened to Mr Gallagher was unacceptable, and we have apologised to him for the incident and the distress caused.
"We are investigating the incident in full to establish what went wrong, and to ensure we prevent a recurrence.
"Our employees are proud to assist the transport needs of mobility and sensory impaired customers across the country on a daily basis, and we liaise with representative bodies through our Disability Users Group.
"We will work to ensure that nobody has to experience such an incident again."