Step-free access on London Underground

Bakerloo at Waterloo

I’ve talked briefly about our recent trip to London. It was our second trip with our toddler, but last time I drove us all down. This time, we went via train, and we brought a pushchair.

Our toddler now has two pushchairs. There’s the big Bugaboo Chameleon, which we’ve used since birth, and a lighter folding pushchair. The latter fits in our car boot more easily and can be stowed away in luggage racks, but it’s not so good on rough ground and doesn’t have a rain cover. So we still use the Bugaboo now and again, if it’s wet or we’re going somewhere off the beaten track. But for London, we took the lighter pushchair.

On the whole we coped well. The only station where we had major problems was Kew Bridge, a South West Trains station near where we were staying. Although it’s a simple two platform station with a footbridge, there’s no step-free access, and a very wide gap between the train and the platform edge.

We coped okay with the Underground. King’s Cross St Pancras has lifts serving all of its platforms, following a comprehensive rebuild of the station to tie in with the new Eurostar station. This is a major improvement over 2004, when I travelled to London with a friend in a wheelchair. It took two of us to balance the chair on the main escalator. Fortunately we were heading for Olympia, and both Earl’s Court and Kensington (Olympia) stations had lifts even back then.

This time, we were heading for Waterloo, to take a train to Kew Bridge (as mentioned before). Though not the most direct route, we were able to take the Victoria Line to Green Park. Lifts were installed at Green Park in 2012, ahead of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Changing at Green Park took quite a long time, with some long walks between the platforms. Had we been able to use the escalators, I expect this would’ve been quicker.

Then, onward to Waterloo on the Jubilee Line. When the Jubilee Line was extended in the late 1990s, all of the new stations had step-free access from the beginning. Unfortunately, at stations like Waterloo, this didn’t include existing lines, so although it’s possible to get from the Jubilee Line to the street and mainline station without steps, you can’t change to the Northern, Bakerloo or Waterloo & City lines.

Step-free Tube guide

Transport for London (TfL) publishes quite a good step-free Tube guide. Whereas the basic tube map only shows stations with step-free access from the street to the platform or train, the guide goes further. For example, there is step-free interchange between the Bakerloo and Victoria lines at Oxford Circus, but no lifts to the exit. Others, like Cannon Street, have step-free access in one direction only. A map is provided and it greys out stations and lines that are not accessible. The whole of the Bakerloo Line south of Oxford Circus is missing, for example, as is the whole of the Waterloo & City Line.

It also tells you how wide the gap between the train and platform is at those stations which are accessible, and there are some detailed notes. For example, changing trains at Kew Gardens requires a 600 metre walk on nearby streets.

It’s perhaps also worth mentioning that the entire Docklands Light Railway, and Croydon Tramlink are step-free, should you find yourself in East or South London.

Future improvements

TfL is rebuilding a number of Tube stations, and these should all gain step-free access. Farringdon and Blackfriars recently became accessible as part of the Thameslink Programme, and Crossrail… sorry, “The Elizabeth Line”, will see many other stations gain lifts. These include Ealing Broadway, Paddington, Bond Street, Tottenham Court Road, Moorgate, Liverpool Street and Whitechapel.

Additionally, TfL are rebuilding Victoria and Bank stations, with plans for Camden Town. Again, these should all become step-free when the work is complete. Frustratingly, the recent rebuild of Shepherd’s Bush tube station on the Central Line, to tie in with the opening of the Westfield shopping centre, did not include the addition of lifts, apparently due to costs.