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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Access for All Programme

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Written by Stuart Rackley for the rail engineer

Two-thirds of disabled persons in the UK are over the age of 65. With demographic trends forecasting an increase in the proportion of older people in our society, it is vital that the railway system addresses the issue of providing easier access to employment, health services, education and leisure pursuits.

The disabled are especially dependent on public transport as 60% have no car in the household, compared with 27% of the general population.

A study in 2002 for the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee showed that disabled persons made only two-thirds of the number of journeys undertaken by able-bodied people.

The Access for All (AfA) Programme is part of the Railways for All Strategy launched in 2006 to address the issues faced by physically disadvantaged passengers using the UK railway network.

Its objective is to increase their journey opportunities by improving step-free access to stations.

By doing this, more of the physically disadvantaged will be able to use the network more often, thus providing greater access to employment opportunities and wider participation in social and leisure activities.

Expanding access to the railways is not a new concept. In the early 1980s British Rail established an advisory group of disabled persons who advised on how to improve access. The 1993 Railways Act ensured that the needs of the disabled are taken into account and that a statutory Code of Practice is observed.

Specific provision was made in the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 1995 to ensure that station operators did not discriminate against disabled persons and that all new trains met improved accessibility standards.

Over 4300 passenger carriages now meet these standards and by 2020 all passenger carriages will meet the revised standards of the 2005 DDA.

Stations

The rail network in the UK has about 2500 stations. These vary from major city termini with significant retail developments, through busy town and interchange stations, down to quiet rural stations supporting local communities.

Most were built in the latter half of the 19th century and potentially present multiple and differing problems for disabled persons. The key objective of the AfA programme is the provision of a step-free accessible route from the station entrance to and between the platforms.

This generally includes the provision of lifts and/or ramps as well as associated works and refurbishment along the defined route, thus removing obstacles to travelling by rail.

In 2006, the Government recognised the need to achieve a substantial improvement to platform accessibility.

The Department for Transport (DfT) allocated an additional investment of about £370 million to be spent specifically on station improvements. When completed, these will be added to Network Rail’s asset base.

This investment is known as the AfA funding and is phased to be spent by March 2015. To date, a total of 148 stations, 6% of the total on the network, have been selected by the DfT for the AfA programme. It is Network Rail’s responsibility to manage the delivery of the programme, its budget and financial reporting.

Details of the cost of work done to date, anticipated cost of completion and financial forecasts are all sent to the DfT on a 4-weekly basis. Funding was targeted at the busiest stations, although a proportion was allocated to ensue a fair geographical spread across Great Britain.

Currently 50% of the total budget has been spent with about one third of the stations already completed and the remainder either in progress or at different levels of design and planning.

Lessons learned from the early completed projects have resulted in the average cost per station falling. Standardised designs, simplified procurement processes and competitively tendered contracts, along with the currently depressed state of the construction industry, are allowing additional financial efficiencies to be made.

The scheme has the full support of Philip Hammond, Secretary of State for Transport, and of Transport Scotland and the Welsh Assembly.

To date, 52 stations in England and Wales and 8 in Scotland have completed step-free projects. A further 14 in England and Wales are scheduled to be completed this year with a strong focus on a number of projects to have accessible routes prior to the Olympics.

Wembley Central, Hackney Central, Bromley South and Slough have all recently been contracted to be up and running before the Games commence.

Subject to funding being made available at the required time, the remaining stations are planned for completion during the current control period which ends on 31 March 2014.

AfA projects range from extensive modernisation at Clapham Junction to more conventional works at Wellingborough.

Wellingborough Station

The market town of Wellingborough lies 65 miles from London St Pancras International. With journey times of just over 50 minutes to the capital, it has become a popular commuting location having a population of about 73,000.

The station was built by the Midland Railway in 1857 and originally had five platforms. Three of those platforms remain of which two are in regular use. The Up platform (No 2), serving stations to London, is currently only accessible by either a footbridge or a barrow crossing at the North end of the station.

Wellingborough is part of the North Northamptonshire development area and major growth is planned for the areas at Upper Redhill and Stanton Cross to the East of the town, adding an additional 6000 new homes.

Such expansion warrants substantial station improvements including an AfA programme, and this started in January 2011 at a total cost of £2million.

Lead contractor May Gurney will install a new and improved footbridge, with modern hydraulically operated lifts, to serve platforms 2 and 3.

The new bridge and lifts will allow for abolition of the somewhat dangerously positioned barrow crossing at the North end of the station. The restrictive speed limit of 65 mph will be raised substantially, improving journey times for through trains to and from Leicester, Derby and Nottingham.

On site, the first item to strike the eye is the ironstone facing on the footbridge infill and lift shafts which was a condition of planning consent from the local authority. Whilst this is very attractive, it does not match the remainder of the station structures which are of red brick.

The stairways are very wide and able to cope with the large number of passengers expected to use the station in the future.

The bridge has been constructed so that it is impossible for those with bad intent to throw anything down onto the railway below. All the windows can be opened inward for cleaning purposes.

In keeping with Network Rail’s good neighbour policy, letter drops were made to all local residents warning them of possible noise and inconvenience during the period of the contract.

There is also daily liaison and close co-operation with station staff and a log book is kept in the Station Manager’s office. A great deal of effort has been put into minimising inconvenience to the travelling public who will benefit greatly when work is completed in Autumn 2011.

Other projects

In contrast to Wellingborough, Clapham Junction is an example of a larger AfA funded project.

Work started in February 2007 at a cost of £14.5 million and includes the restoration of a long-closed station entrance at St John’s Hill along with the provision of new ticketing facilities, travel information screens and passenger toilets in a fully refurbished ticket hall.

The new entrance provides a step-free route into the station – a total of nine lifts have been installed between the overbridge and all 17 platforms.

Additionally, a taxi and car pick-up and drop-off point was created and cycle racks for up to 72 bikes have been installed. Funding was also provided by network Rail, South West Trains, Wandsworth Council, Transport for London and the Railway Heritage Trust.

Small Schemes

Concerns were expressed during consultation for AfA that all funding would be targeted towards large stations and smaller and rural stations that also had accessibility issues would be ignored.

As a result, the DfT has to date made available around £6 – £7 million of funding annually for local authorities, train operating companies and other interested groups to make locally-focused improvements.

From 2011 onwards £5million has been allocated directly to the train operators, with the funding divided based on their passenger numbers.

Small Scheme bids required match funding and were capped at £250,000 or 50% of the capital cost of the project. It has proved so popular that the DfT have received bids for more than double the available budget.

Up until 31 March 2011, approximately £25 million has been awarded towards almost £95million of access improvements at over 1050 stations.

Projects covered a huge range of improvements including ramps, lifts, accessible toilets, better lighting, customer information screens, lowered ticket windows and automatic doors at station entrances.

One example of Small Scheme funding is Warrington Central where non-slip, colour contrasting flooring, CIS screens and a ramp for disabled persons were installed along with lifts to provide step free access between platforms.

The Access for All scheme has shown that, given suitable funding, goodwill and co-operation between all parties, there is no reason why disabled persons should be made to feel second-class citizens on today’s modern railway.

This is due to the work in partnership between Network Rail, the Department for Transport, local authorities and numerous other bodies.

Thanks to Jon Ratcliffe and Anne-Marie Batson of Network Rail, and Neil Priest of the Department for Transport, for their considerable help in the compilation of this article.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Wakefield Westgate has no level access to platform 2. Barrow crossing is only available twice an hour due to level of traffic. Only non accesable station on the eastcoast mainline!

  2. Wakefield Westgate has no level access to platform 2. Barrow crossing is only available twice an hour due to level of traffic. Only non accesable station on the eastcoast mainline!

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