Mapping the Development of

Step-free Access Across

London’s Rail Network

Step-Free London

Mapping the Development of

Step-free Access Across

London’s Rail Network

Access for Some?

The slow but steady trickle of new step-free stations in London continues, with West Hampstead (Overground) becoming accessible, as well as both stations on the Waterloo & City line, at least partially. Another important addition will definitely arrive in December, when TfL Rail is extended to Reading, although the extension will start to redefine the relationship between the Oyster Card and TfL. Finally, despite Crossrail’s continued delays, could we expect partial openings to allow step-free access to other TfL services?

Step-Free Access At West Hampstead

After a year’s delay, followed by 2 months after the new ticket hall’s opening, the Overground’s West Hampstead station is now step-free to all platforms. As has become increasingly common, this was not done via a formal announcement. Instead, TfL revealed this information as a casual reply, following repeated periodic questioning from frustrated passengers. With this development, there is now a handy out-of-station interchange between the Overground and Thameslink, allowing for quick access from the inner North London suburbs to Central London.

The only West Hampstead station still waiting for step-free access is the Jubilee line’s. While there has been considerable local interest to tie this scheme with nearby redevelopment projects, nothing is currently agreed.

West Hampstead (Overground) a few weeks before opening of the new ticket hall

Confusion at Smallest Tube Line

In what is a first for London, one of the Underground’s 11 lines is now fully accessible (at least for a few hours a day)! However, you would probably not know it based on responses like this from TfL:

So, no step-free access to the Waterloo & City line at Waterloo station then, right? Oh wait!:

To give a bit of background, the Waterloo & City line (W&C) is the Underground’s shortest line, consisting of two stations, Waterloo and Bank. This line is largely overlooked and is mostly geared towards commuters from the South West working in the City of London. However, as shown in the diagram below, it is by far the most efficient way to reach the heart of the Square Mile.

Geographic diagram of the Waterloo & City line (source)

At the end of last year, the long-delayed step-free entrance to the W&C at Bank was finally opened.

With both stations already having platform humps to improve accessibility, only the lift access at Waterloo, tied to the redevelopment of the former Eurostar terminal, was still pending before the whole line could be fully accessible. This part was also delayed for several months, but only last week did I hear that the access to the Underground was finally open, hence the tweets above.

So basically, the lifts are only operational during peak hours because the lifts lead to a ticket gateline and a shiny subway that are only opened (and staffed) during peak hours to accommodate the huge commuter crowds at Waterloo. In order to reach the W&C line from the new lifts, one needs to cross through this subway, meaning that during off-peak hours, step-free access is no longer available to the line. For passengers who do not require step-free access, there are several other routes available to them throughout the whole day.

Even with the partial step-free access, TfL has attempted to remove itself from this issue completely, noting that the lifts at Waterloo as Network Rail assets. This is despite the fact that the works at Bank were done for TfL, and presumably they were not expecting passengers to go back and forth from Bank for amusement!

The situation seems entirely inappropriate and discriminatory, as it is cutting off access to the W&C line only to passengers who need accessible transport. This is something I will keep bringing up to both Network Rail and TfL, as their failure to coordinate the accessibility of the W&C line has turned a potential success story into yet another sign that blame games and cost-cutting always come before accessibility and equality.

Peak-hour subway at Waterloo
The infamous non-existent/non-operational Waterloo lifts

Not-Oyster Expansion to Reading

Moving onto a widely-reported announcement, TfL has now revealed more details surrounding the takeover of the GWR stopping services from Paddington to Reading as part of TfL Rail. The takeover itself will take place on 15 December 2019, but the only initial change will be the rolling stock, not the fare structure or any change in service.

However, on 2 January 2020, Pay-As-You-Go (PAYG) contactless payment, including daily and weekly caps, will be available up to Reading. Unlike all other TfL services, this expansion is the first to not include Oyster Card validity, due to alleged limits to the card’s technology. But while contactless payment is becoming increasingly popular and is nearly identical to using Oyster Cards, this could be very problematic for passengers without contactless bank cards or those who will not be able to make use of railcards discounts programmed into their Oyster Cards.

Despite these issues, I look forward to this expansion. It will be great being able to just tap in and out at my local station (Reading) and not have to wonder if I am getting the best value for my money. It is also quite exciting to essentially “joining” London’s vast railway network.

Speaking of financial changes, the Freedom Pass is also expanding out to Reading. While this will have a very positive impact on existing Freedom Pass holders in London, it will also highlight the fact that the pass is only available to residents of Greater London. This means that disabled passengers from Iver to Reading are not eligible for free transport on the TfL network, so Londoners can come to and from Reading for free, but Reading residents can’t.

In theory, this makes sense, as the Freedom Pass is funded by the London Councils only. However, it is quite ridiculous that TfL and the relevant Berkshire/Buckinghamshire councils were not able to come up with a similar concessionary agreement, especially seeing how 3 of the 4 largest towns in Berkshire are directly impacted by this (Reading, Slough, and Maidenhead).

Finally, looking at accessibility, the three remaining inaccessible stations from Iver to Reading are set to become step-free by March 2020 (Iver, Langley, and Taplow). This will likely result in the curious case where all the stations outside of Greater London will have step-free access but none of the ones inside of it, except for Paddington. Nevertheless, works are now in full swing along the entire line, so it should not be too long before ANOTHER TfL service is fully step-free.

Paddington to Reading local service map, with highlighted step-free access works in green

Early Victory for Crossrail Project

Focussing in on Central London, the latest (October 2019) issue of Modern Railways reports that the step-free access works on the Overground and District/Hammersmith & City lines at Whitechapel will be finished by Spring 2020. This is almost a year earlier than the latest opening date for the central portion of the Elizabeth Line, and would be a fantastic development for accessible transport. Whitechapel is an important interchange station and due to its segregated services, would have full level boarding access on all its platforms.

It is important to note that this is rather surprising news, given that Whitechapel is one of the more delayed new Crossrail stations (although not as bad as Bond Street). This does raise the question of whether we can expect other early openings for existing TfL lines that whose access works were included in the Crossrail projects. The remaining ones are the Bakerloo line at Paddington and the Northern and sub-surface (Metropolitan, Hammersmith & City, and Circle) lines at Moorgate.

Both of these stations are more advanced in completion than Whitechapel, so it would be great if they were able to open up the step-free access for these 5 Underground lines. This may not be the Elizabeth Line inauguration that TfL expected, but it would be a great way to show that TfL is serious about putting accessibility in the forefront.


  1. Do you have any news on stations like Palmers Green and Plumstead? 2019 is ending soon, which is quite worrying.

  2. I happened to be at Waterloo Station last Friday at about 7.50 pm and noticed the stairs to the orchestra pit were open but it was to late to check W&C Accessibility. While the stairs from Underground to Orchestra Pit were also open .

    Today I used TFL Rail and noticed how the permanent Elizabeth Line roundel signs with a Purple roundel and Station name are being installed at stations . Ironically signs have appeared at Goodmayes Station which include way out and lift symbols but lifts ade still no further forward at platform level.

    1. Im not sure if many people have used the lifts yet. Surely doesnt help that its not listed as a step-free route. Any news on Harold wood?

  3. I’ve received news that Brookmans Park is now a contactless only station. I wonder who was so smart to reserve only 4 zones for outer London stations in the Oyster system. So horrible. Or can’t they just standardise the zones as North South East West? might as well make every outer London fare the same.

  4. I visited West Hampstead today to find both lifts at the Overground Station still not in operation with notes re ‘not to be used ‘ suggesting it’s more a case of lifts not yet in service rather than normal breakdown.

  5. The November issue of Modern Railways includes an item on the Bakerloo Line extension which mentions that plans to integrate Elephant and Castle Station include step free access to both the Bakerloo and Northern Lines . Thus adding the Bakerloo Line , which will mean the Southbound Bakerloo Line platform at Waterloo Station which is already accessible will have accessible stations beyond it .

    1. Yes this will be an important development with the Bakerloo line. Although I still dont consider Waterloo southbound accessible, given the huge platform-train interface

  6. Hello I actually am not able to comment on the latest post :/ There’s no leave a reply section so I’ll just write it here. Well the Bakerloo line extension unnamed stations might be more suited to have the names Burgess Park and Old Kent Road. Asylum just sounds really out of place. I understand it’s named after the road but just the word itself sounds sick to me lmao. In the consultation, I have also suggested to TfL to consider adding an additional stop at St. Johns so that National Rail may opt for skipping that stop entirely, or I suppose London Overground New Cross branch could solve that problem and be extended to Lewisham.

  7. TFL has a board meeting on Wednesday 20 November

    Please see extract from agenda papers which gives a progress report on Amersham and Cockfosters Stations –

    Step-free access at Cockfosters and Amersham stations
    The new lift shaft has been craned into position at Cockfosters station, on the Piccadilly line. This is an important construction phase which takes the
    station a step closer to becoming step- free. The station is a Grade II listed building and the work has involved working closely with Enfield Council. While most lifts are usually silver in colour, the final lift will have bronze doors and metalwork to reflect the station’s heritage.
    Two lift towers have also been craned into position at Amersham station, on the Metropolitan line, along with an overbridge between the platforms to connect them.
    Both stations are on the outskirts of the underground network and, once installations are complete early next year, will give important step-free access
    routes into central London, unlocking our city for more of our customers. These are two of 15 stations that will be step-free to customers by Spring 2020, which will make a third of the network step-free.

  8. The December issue of Modern Railways is a London Special and contains an article on Farringdon Station which includes the new east entrance at Barbican which mentions that the station includes new incline lifts for Crossrail/Elizabeth Line but also mentions a lift that will serve platform 2 of Underground Station. No mention is made of platform 1 so Barbican Station might also become accessible if provision of a lift from street to platform 1 is planned.

  9. “Two lift towers have also been craned into position at Amersham station, on the Metropolitan line, along with an overbridge between the platforms to connect them.”

    I have seen this development, what a waste of money… The usual London bound platform at Amersham is already step free, and of course a short distance up the road is Chesham and that has always been step free (apart from the gap between the train and the platform), oh and Chalfont also a short distance away has both platforms step free… The money would have been better spent elsewhere say Baker Street!

    While step free access is coming to a station near you… it does not mean that it is ‘access for all’ and you may find that taking a taxi or getting a bus would be a better option.

    I write this as a career of a wheelchair user, she does not have the strength in her arms to cope with the so called step free access we see being trumpeted.

    1. You miss the fact that only the London-bound service is step-free at Amersham, meaning that a wheelchair user is unable to alight at Amersham coming from London. Chalfont has a very long out-of-station interchange route between platforms, which can lead to longer journeys. Amersham’s getting a proper accessible footbridge, and having level boarding platforms is important for the area. I don’t dispute that Baker Street badly needs step-free access, but the current step free programme is focussed on getting as many outer London stations step-free, which are significantly cheaper than central stations. Looking at TfL’s current situation, works at Camden Town and Holborn are indefinitely delayed because of funding problems. Funding access at Amersham is not taking it from Baker Street, as that work will require a massive influx of money that is currently not available to TfL.

  10. may i add that as a frequent visitor to amersham and getting on in years, i welcome the news of a lift to get from platform 2 to the exit as i have a damaged knee and find it a struggle to get my case up the stairs. so any news on opening dates please?

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