Happy first birthday to the Elizabeth line. London has always been a place for world-class engineering, and the Elizabeth line has continued that tradition. As Rowan Moore described it when the line opened last year – the Elizabeth line is “a megalopolis of engineering”, which at one point was the largest transport engineering project in Europe, decades and billions of pounds in the making, and a metro transport system among the most technologically complex in the world.
With its step-free design, the Elizabeth line marks real progress in accessibility in London’s public transport network. But this reality ought not to be taken for granted. When the Crossrail designs were first drawn up, seven stations along the line were planned to have no lifts or step-free access: Hanwell, Manor Park, Maryland, Seven Kings, Iver, Langley and Taplow.
It is thanks to the efforts of campaigners a decade ago that the Elizabeth Line has the degree of accessibility it does today. Transport for All, with their members and a wider community of disability rights campaigners ran a hugely successful campaign combining political tactics and direct action to help to ensure that all 41 stations along the line have some degree of step-free access.
Disabled people face a range of physical, information, communication and financial barriers to making journeys. These are fundamental challenges to consider when planning the flow of people through transport infrastructure.
When it first opened, East London Phoenix basketball star, Curran Brown, reviewed the Elizabeth line to test how it functioned for someone in a wheelchair. She noted that the biggest barrier to getting from A to B is the amount of time finding the accessible route. However, for the Elizabeth line, she commented, “One of the first things that strikes me about the central station is the copious number of lifts they have. At Tottenham Court Road, there are three different lift routes that will take you to and from the platform to the street. You don’t have to go super far and out of the way to get to the lifts for the most part, so getting through the stations was pretty straightforward.”
Though a small aspect of the overall megalopolis, this feature observed by Curran has a massive lifestyle and equalising benefit. Noting that some London Underground stations have no lifts, the high availability of lifts on the Elizabeth line is a real marker of society’s progress. Furthermore, for anyone moving on the underground network with any aid, pushchair or larger item, such as a suitcase or bike, then the availability of lifts is crucial. That is why the 99.6% availability of KONE’s 53 lifts on the Elizabeth line for the first year of its operation is so important to us because it has meant that accessibility for everyone has been guaranteed.
By sharing knowledge and insights, the project has endeavoured to understand from a passenger’s point of view what is needed and how to attract more passengers to public transport and identifies various technology, infrastructure and management solutions associated with each stage of a passenger’s journey.
This report provides multiple solutions that address accessibility challenges throughout the public transport system. What comes through clearly, though, is that upholding the principle that stations should be accessible to all users will now be an absolutely standard requirement when planning stations of the future.