Sean Watson is a 29-year-old autistic man who lives in Sunderland with his mother, his sister Tracey and their three cats. The only way he can travel independently is on the Tyne & Wear Metro – and here he explains why he loves it. (Note - the images are from the new Metro trains, which are not yet in public service.)

For a long, long time, I would only go as far as I could walk. So my world was restricted to a three-mile radius, from my house to town, sometimes twice a day, and over the nearby Northern Spire bridge. I used to walk three hours a day.

We moved to a house further from town, and I would need a lift back. One day my sister couldn’t pick me up because her car was in the garage. So I decided to try to get on the Metro.

I was a bit worried but I was determined. And to my surprise, I enjoyed it. I like going out in the car and watching the world go by, and it was a bit like that.

On buses, you’ve got to pay attention to what stop you need to get off at, but the Metro stops at every stop. It took a bit of the anxiety away and I was hooked. 

The Metro opened up my world. Now I wasn’t limited to a three-mile radius any more. I did it quite regularly, once or twice a week. A support worker helped me fill out some forms to get the Nexus Metro Gold Pass because of my disability – I hadn’t known about that. It’s £12 a year for the Metro, and it’s very freeing. 

I was mostly just going into town or across to the Tesco in Roker. But then I got the courage to go to Newcastle, which is somewhere I hadn’t been in a very long time. I went right through to the Monument. 

My adventures were curbed for a while with lockdown, unfortunately. But as soon as you could start going out wearing a mask, I was back on the Metro and going to Monument or sometimes as far as Kingston Park. I really got into going to the big Tesco there because I got more travel time. I’d go into the store and get myself two drinks. Sometimes I’d buy the bags for life if they had a special character on them.

Thankfully, the Metro station I use – Pallion - is the second one. It’s practically empty when I get on. It was the reason I used to go through to Kingston Park, because it’s two or three stations down from the airport and was pretty much empty then. So I can always sit in the place I like to sit.

I don’t like using taxis - I’m not good with small talk with taxi drivers.  I can’t do buses, with the queuing, interacting with the driver, ringing the bell for the bus to stop, and having to walk to the front with everyone looking. What happens if there are people in the aisle or I’m next to the window and someone’s sitting next to me? No, it’s just too awkward.

On the Metro, you don't have to interact with anybody but you can get the enjoyment of travelling. You open the doors, you sit down, and that's you done.

You don't have to draw attention to yourself - chances are, there's always going to be someone getting on or off at each station. So it's not like you're the only one to stand out.

Even though the Metro can get quite busy, I can block it out. There can be sensory issues and you can get idiots on the Metro, you have no control over those things. But I can make those sacrifices if it means I can just sit comfortably.

I always listen to music on the Metro, I have headphones. I know some people think it’s negative, blocking things out, but for me it helps me stay calm. I like country music, I love Dr. Hook, the Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Lynyrd Skynyrd. I usually try to keep the songs positive, because it’s nice to be positive when you’re on the Metro.

I like to people watch too. I like to watch what they do and how they act and how they go about their day. You see all kinds of people on the Metro. I saw a fellow on his own listening to headphones and having the time of his life, singing along. I’ve seen all ethnicities and ages, it’s a very nice experience seeing families out with children, sharing a smile with them.

Because I was going so frequently, I often would see the same people and I recognised them. I love it when someone brings a dog on the train. There was a woman brought a Labrador on once and it went round sniffing everyone – it was a high point.

I love looking out of the window, especially when you see animals. After Fellgate, there’s a pond and once there were swans and I went every day to watch them get bigger and leave. And once there was a horse in the field nearby rolling on its back with its legs in the air like a dog - I’ve never seen that before and it cheered me up that day. And I see loads of magpies. 

I do panic a bit if things go wrong. Last October the weather was really bad and they announced there’d be no trains from Pelaw to South Hylton. I didn’t know what to do so I got off at Pelaw and walked around to try to find something. Luckily I met two people also trying to get to Sunderland and I went with them to Heworth to get a proper train.

I don’t like the look of the new fleet with the parallel seats facing each other. They’re going for more of a London Underground feel. I find that weird. You can’t look out the window, you’re just staring right across at other people. I feel a bit apprehensive about that, but I’ll see.

I remember first going on the Metro with our Tracey when we were little tots. I remember being terrified at first because of how fast they were going and how close the tracks were to each other. But in my teens and 20s I had mental health issues and would just stay in the house. The Metro really did give me my freedom back.

'How we try to make the Metro autism-friendly': director  - watch video