Overcoming challenges with Step-Free Access
A large proportion of our transport infrastructure simply wasn’t designed around the needs of people with restricted mobility, those travelling with small children or even those with bulky luggage.
If we were designing a brand-new station today, the need for step-free access would be a priority. It’s inconceivable that anyone now would design anything that didn’t provide easy access for all travellers. Should we be prepared to accept anything less for our existing infrastructure?
Providing step-free access to existing stations is clearly a challenge – particularly as it isn’t normally feasible to demolish or completely close what’s already in place. But in many cases these challenges can be overcome with intelligent engineering to integrate new lifts and walkways.
Finding economically viable solutions places the onus on the design and planning phase, including the need for careful material handling. There is limited scope for ‘working through’ problems onsite once the project is underway.
As an example of what’s possible with the right approach, step-free access was recently provided between the taxi drop-off at basement level and the Euston main station concourse, without the need for any closures. The work included the removal of over 1000 tonnes of clay and soil to create the lift shafts.
Overcoming challenges will also call for different thinking and greater use of modern methods of construction. As much of the fabrication as possible needs to be carried out offsite. This, in turn, offers opportunities for efficiency through greater standardisation.
The three stations that Stagecoach South West Trains needed upgrading to step-free access were all designed, delivered and operational within twelve months thanks largely to the use of offsite construction.
Today, we have world-class technology to plan and execute projects that wasn’t available when many of our existing stations were built. The challenge is to apply technology and different ways of thinking so that stations can be made suitable for all travellers without unacceptable expense or disruption along the way.