Friday, 20 October 2017

Crossrail: Access All Areas? Not quite.

I'm well off topic this week and apologies, it is another London-centric post. I don't know much about trains, but I was quite excited to finally travel on a new Crossrail* train. But, it's far from good.

I've been following the development of Crossrail on and off for well over 20 years with my interest being piqued in the early 90's when a fellow student had a year's industrial placement on the project (yes, big stuff takes this long).

I next became interested when I had a phone call from an elderly gentlemen who was asking for a new bus stop (two make a pair) as it would help him and his wife to get home from the local station. It turned out that she regularly had to get into Central London for medical appointments, but their local station lacked lifts and so they had to travel the wrong way to another station with a lift, change platforms and then head into Town - the bus stop made for a much shorter walk back to their home on the return trip which was hard work for him pushing his wife. 

This chance conversation was probably the one issue which started my thinking around accessible transport infrastructure (and I am still learning thanks to many people willing to explain the issues to me). The two key things I have learnt (often, but not limited to mobility issues) are;
  • it is society which needs to adapt rather than the individual,
  • something which is accessible to those people who need it most also becomes more accessible to everyone else.
Having had young children, my family always dreamt of lifts at our local station and with Crossrail, this would become a reality. Unfortunately, our youngest is now three and she'll probably not need them now! However, her parents (!) are likely to need them as they get older. Many local authorities lobbied hard to get street to platform access when the Crossrail Bill was going through Parliament which is actually disgraceful when you think about it.

So after seeing some of the new Crossrail trains, I finally got the chance to have a ride on one today;

As I saw the new train arriving, I got my phone ready to get some snaps (hence the quality - sorry) and noticed that the doors were well above platform level.

Lo and behold, there is still a step up from the platform to the train. I wondered if this was because platform works were still to be completed. You can also see two yellow lines across the doorway - the first is the edge of the step up, the second (inside the train) is a second little lip which the doors slide against.. I had guessed this to be about 25mm high, but on reflection it's less, but still a lip. The doors swing and slide into this lip.

I'll get to the point, there are steps at all of the stations - I was going t Stratford and so I jumped off, crouched down and got (a slightly wobbly) shot of the height;

I was tweeting out these photos and as ever, there were plenty of helpful comments. The nub of the issue (and please correct me if I am wrong) is that trains move about a bit as a consequence of their suspension and rails are not perfectly laid in every case and so things to wobble a bit.

The central and southeast London sections of Crossrail is on dedicated track and so the tolerances can be tightened up so level platform access is possible such as can be seen here on the Docklands Light Railway which has level access and a very small to platform gap;

The western and eastern sections of Crossrail are on repurposed (existing railways) to form metro style services, but which can be shared with other trains such as freight or where the "fast line" trains are moved onto the metro line during maintenance and vice versa.

In other words, the trains might be new, but the existing platforms are just tarted up. Transport for London have been managing the Crossrail stations for some time using the old rolling stock and they have had a "turn up and go" policy for some time. If you need help to get onto the train (perhaps using a wheelchair), a manual ramp can be used by station staff. It turns out that staff assisting people onto the train will alert staff at the person's destination to help them off.

This is probably the best we're going to get, but it is not fully inclusive, despite turn up and go. The measure of an inclusive service would be people's ability to get on and off the trains themselves or if travelling in a group, accessing the trains as part of the group - in other words society has adapted the infrastructure so those needing help, well don't; they can just access the service.

Perhaps my experience today has shown my own naivety on the subject. I can't blame TfL - they are essentially having to work round existing infrastructure. The issue lies (as ever) at a national level and in the case of the railways, accessibility is woefully behind the modern world.

*Yes I know it's called the Elizabeth Line, but I'll always know it as Crossrail.


  1. How disappointing, after spending all that money. On the Manchester Metrolink, we have a 40mm gap, which can lead to problems:

    1. Oh the Metrolink is great, but that's a daft one!

  2. New Merseyrail trains will have a slightly lower floor and a sliding step to fill the gap, and all platforms will be rebuilt to a consistent height for level access. See the last photo here:

    (Merseyrail has had two relatively recent high-profile incidents of passengers being killed by being dragged under trains after falling through the gap, which may be the driving force for this, as much as accessibility)

    I've no idea if this feature was available or considered when the Crossrail trains were ordered several years ago.

    1. From what I'm understanding, the platform has to be kept low because of through trains which might need to use the line from time to time; A train-borne ramp would be slow to deploy and likely to break down I think.

    2. Merseyrail benefits that almost all its stations are served by Merseyrail services only, with no other trains except maintenance using their lines. Therefore they can make appropriate modifications. The Great Eastern is a very busy freight line, giving access to the North London Line at Stratford which links to (especially) the West Coast Main Line, forming a route for freight from Felixstowe, London Gateway and Dagenham. These trains, and Greater Anglia mainline trains, all need to use the tracks Crossrail will be using; it isn't an exclusive right of way.

    3. The Merseyrail plan is that every train will deploy a ramp (actually a level gap filler) at every door for every station - I think the manufacturer has proven the technology elsewhere. The trains will have a lower floor than most trains so will be level with the standard height UK platforms. I see no reason why Crossrail trains couldn't have had something similar even with the requirement for through trains on the same platforms - too late now, of course.

      (It's worth noting Virgin Pendolinos have a retracting step on every door that needs to operate at every station stop, and as far as I'm aware there are no reliability problems with them)

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