In the Czech Republic there are many railway operators, ranging from local ones to three operating main lines, including the biggest one, national Czech Railways. While railway operators run trains, the rail transport infrastructure such as tracks and stations is owned and run by state. The timetable information is centralized by law and multimodal search engine has been available for 2 decades. Yet getting a single ticket covering multiple operators or even modalities has not been made available. Blind people benefit from discounted prices and guides or guide dogs travel for free. To make solo travelling easier for visually impaired people, acoustic and tactile features have been introduced. Acoustic features are invoked by a 6-button countrywide Transmitter for the Blind and they inextricably complement with tactile features, not to mention some features are also available over internet or using mobile apps.
Planning the trip starts with the multimodal search engine, which is well accessible both on the web and within smart phone app. The search engine searches simultaneously in all timetables, be they long or short distance or even public city transport. It also indicates time needed for switching from one mode to another, like getting from bus terminal to railway station. Once you find the connection, you may purchase the ticket over internet and reserve also the seat. In most cases there is a direct link to the provider’s e-shop, which makes purchasing somewhat easier. Currently it is impossible to buy a single ticket valid for more operators. Despite our effort, purchasing tickets over web is inaccessible with the exception of Czech Railways, mobile apps are mostly accessible though. Depending on the line occupancy it may not be necessary to buy a ticket with seat reservation in advance, you may buy it in the station or even in the train. In this case it may happen you get only a ticket, but no seat. National Czech Railways ask for a surcharge for buying a ticket from the conductor, but blind people are exempt from paying it.
Getting to the station and into the train
If you are a blind person and need to get to the nearest train station by city transport, you will benefit of using your transmitter to take the proper vehicle and get off at the railway station stop announced by internal loudspeaker. The station entrance should be marked by acoustic beacon indicating entrance into the main hall. Such a beacon announces its location and provides a description of the direction to walk, i.e. when entering the building beacons announce direction and route towards individual platforms, ticket office, information office (helpdesk) or toilets.
After you enter the hall you wait for the train listening to the station loudspeaker or find the departing platform number and possible delay using smart phone or talking table of departures. If there are only two lines the table of departures reads its whole content aloud at once on request from the transmitter, in the event there are 6 or more lines the speech flow should be controllable by two separate transmitter buttons, one for repeating current record and one for skipping to the next one.
To find the appropriate platform when going from the hall you may use acoustic beacons and Braille markings on handrails over staircase to any platform or you may ask for assistance. Usually it is possible to request the assistance at any staffed station, though such service is guaranteed only for long journeys and if notified enough in advance. Parallel to the staircase a talking lift with Braille marking should get you to the proper platform as well. And so should do the escalators which announce their direction and platform number on request of the transmitter.
Once on the platform, it is possible to find the platform edge using tactile tiles of warning strips. They run parallel to the platform edge contrary to so called signal strips, which indicate interesting features like staircase or informational booth, and which run perpendicular to the platform edge. Once the train is approaching, a loudspeaker announcement is spoken and when the train arrives, you may board it. Some local trains are equipped with acoustic beacon navigating to second front or rear door together with door opening activated by the transmitter. To find the proper wagon and the reserved seat, it is necessary to ask the train crew or fellow passengers for assistance. You may also take one of seats reserved for disabled people, which are in most cases placed closest to the entrance door.
Getting off and changing trains
A blind person may watch the train delay over internet and follow internal loudspeakers for stop announcements. Watching a GPS location might also be a good idea. Should the train be late, it is a good idea to ask the conductor to make sure the connecting train will wait. Conductors are very often helpful and offer their assistance with getting off at the proper station or even with switching to another connecting train. Should the time allow, they either guide you to the switching train or hand over to station personnel. This great helpfulness is the result of short mandatory intro training which each Czech Railways employee gets about disabled people's needs. This training was prepared in collaboration with disabled people’s organizations and the change in behavior was remarkable to the extent clients were asking us what had happened. Unfortunately when switching from trains to other means of transport, one may not rely on assistance being provided by train operator or station staff as their helpfulness is limited to train infrastructure only. Getting a volunteer guide or walking on your own might be an option.
At stations, where the train stops on request only, it might also be necessary to notify your request by pressing a separate easily localizable push button. An announcement of the next station name followed by the phrase "we will stop" is played immediately after any passenger presses such button. Some of trains even announce the side where the door will open. Some trains do open their doors automatically, others require pressing the door opening button. Some doors start to beep once they are opening or closing, and they beep differently when they are open.
Other notable details
Free pre-trip SMS and other bonuses are available for online payment with Czech Railways. The pre-trip SMS contains expected delay, known diversions, possible substitute buses etc.
An app with real-time copy of arrival and departure tables of most stations is available. This is another way of accessing timetable information on platforms and delays, the difference is in that the table loudspeaker announces the information for everyone while the app may read it for a single person only.
The Metro is considered a special railway in the Czech Republic. Metro is equipped with many artificial guiding lines, talking lifts with Braille marking, acoustic beacons informing of each exit at ground level, and to speed boarding and increase safety, a blind person may inform of his/her presence, in which case the next train in each direction automatically opens all doors, which otherwise open on push button request only.
Railroad junctions, that is pedestrian crossing over railroad track, are equipped with audible beeping like road crossings. They are just an octave higher in order for the blind person to be able to distinguish them.
For more information on the concept of 6-button Transmitter for the Blind please visit this presentation. Should you have any question, please contact the author.
Jan Urbánek, Czech Blind United (SONS), firstname.lastname@example.org