In preparation for next week’s London TravelWatch Board meeting on 23rd October, numerous documents to be discussed at the meeting have been made available. Of these, one of the documents deals with an update on the state of step-free stations in London. This post will go over the main points of what the document covers, and also what it DOESN’T cover.
London TravelWatch is described as an “independent, statutory watchdog for transport users in and around London.” Covering all forms of transport within the city (as well as the vast London metropolitan area), it is designed to hold the various transport service providers to account and be a voice for passengers and their concerns. And so, within the context of step-free access, one way that London TravelWatch can act is by providing recommendations and advocating for more a more unified approach to a network-wide step-free access programme.
The step-free station document (which you can read here) provides very detailed information on the current state of step-free access in London, including upcoming developments, challenges, and recommendations. Its annexes are an amazing source to keep track of step-free access developments, as there are lists of step-free Underground stations, National Rail stations under the Access for All programme, and upcoming schemes for both systems.
I did think it was rather strange, however, that the document failed to list most of the stations due to become step-free because of the Crossrail project. Similarly, other well-publicised but likely as-of-yet unfunded schemes such as Camden Town and Holborn are not mentioned, despite their very important roles as major interchange stations.
On the National Rail side, it was a bit concerning to see the separate list of committed Access for All schemes that have yet to start work. Shown below, it worryingly contains both deferred schemes (Peckham Rye, Barnes, Streatham) as well as current schemes (Alexandra Palace, Selhurst, Bexley).
This raises a few questions of whether all of these stations will be considered “deferred” and whether they will use up a greater share of the £300m set aside for Access for All up until 2024. We probably won’t know until the new schemes are announced later this year, but it is crucial for London TravelWatch to hold Network Rail accountable for these delayed stations and make sure that they are not rebranded as “new schemes” in order to justify lowering the number of truly new step-free schemes.
The most interesting part of the report is the lists of recommended step-free access schemes, which are in addition to any currently-planned programmes. The report advocates for a flexible policy of investment that provides the best value for both passengers and investors. To illustrate this, it describes a framework that would prioritise:
- stations where step-free access can be achieved relatively easily (ramps and new entrances)
- stations that would make a service or line completely step-free
- stations that offer important interchanges as well as access to public services such as hospitals
- stations located in areas without step-free station alternatives
All in all there are 32 recommended stations. You can read the entire list on the report itself, as well as the proposed works and the rationale for each station’s inclusion, but the main trends are all focused on interchanges and the formation of whole step-free corridors. This includes both suburban stations such as Upminster’s Overground platform and Castle Bar Park as well as major stations such Bank’s Central line platforms and Hackney Downs.
While this list of recommendations may be little more than a wishlist at this stage and has no formal backing from TfL or Network Rail, it is exactly the type of joined-up thinking that is needed to maximise the impact of step-free access development. I hope that these recommendations are given serious consideration and that future schemes are considered within the context of the whole network, rather than the arbitrary division of TfL vs. non-TfL services.
Finally, one thing that I am very disappointed about is that level boarding is not mentioned ANYWHERE in this report. The report is meant “to provide members with an update on progress towards a step free Rail and Underground network.” If this is true, then why isn’t it a priority to mention the need to provide level boarding to the trains? If London TravelWatch is content with step-free to platform only and chooses not to advocate for better access on behalf of passengers, then who is going to put pressure on the rail industry to find innovative solutions to allow for a truly step-free Rail and Underground network?!
Seeing as this report will be discussed in an open forum, I hope that some of these issues are addressed and that level boarding eventually becomes a goal within the context of step-free access. I will not be able to attend the meeting, but if you are available and want to take part, I highly recommend it.