In February 2024, TfL announced its Equity in Motion plan to create a fair and inclusive transport network, with over 80 measures to make London transport more accessible. The plan sets out how the transport agency identify and break down unfair barriers and inequalities that exclude many Londoners from being able to fully use London’s streets and transport network – which diminish their mobility and often their prospects.

This plan also includes establishment of a Design Centre of Excellence in 2024 to provide research and best practice, project support, training, and mentoring for inclusive TfL stations, vehicles, and streets. Whilst this plan addresses a broad range of initiatives including availability, affordability, and communications, in this article we shall be investigating only accessibility – physical barriers to using a service. accommodate ‘encumbered’ travel, such as carrying shopping or travelling with children.

Accessibility is often an underappreciated factor of railway infrastructure. Whilst poor accessibility affects those with mobility problems the most, it affects nearly all passengers to some degree. There are two separate issues at play: access between the platform and the street, and betwixt the platform and the train.

Proceeding to board or exit a train forces the passenger to slow down, assess the height difference, if there is one, between train and platform, calculate foot, wheel, or device placement, adjust for any bags or other items being carried, and ensure any children can manage the step. This not only slows down the passenger who needs to do all this, but also delays any other passengers who are waiting to board or alight through the same door. Level boarding eliminates most of these risks, if the gap is small enough.


The most progress on accessibility has been made on the UK’s urban rail networks. Let us start with TfL.

The Step Free Underground blog monitors TfL’s progress in updating stations to be accessible according to its own plan, as well as critiquing the implementations. However, that blog realises that it all comes down to TfL’s funding, which is not always in its own hands.

On the Sub-Surface lines, the decision to lower the floor of the Sub-Surface stock resolved the accessibility problem at the overwhelming majority of the stations. Some stations still needed adjustment around the area of the cars with wheelchair bays, but there was a significant saving in platform cost compared with building humps at every station.

This was not possible at the few severely curved platforms, and the saving from the majority was supposed to have paid for fixes at locations like Baker Street platform 2 and Monument, but this never happened. A quick solution to raise the track, using a lot of ballast and a tamper was proposed for one station, but apparently this would have overloaded the adjacent bridge.

On the Tube lines, the standard platform height is 520 mm and standard train floor height is 700 mm. These heights are always measured above top of rail (ATR). Every so often, TfL investigates the possibility of designing new trains with floors lowered to around 550 mm, but the challenge of incorporating important equipment like traction equipment, brakes, motors, and bogies make this practically impossible. Compared with trams where such equipment is on the roof, there just isn’t enough height on Tube trains. So humps on platforms became the solution – first at Waterloo circa 2005.

Then there are the platforms shared by different floor height stock types (Bakerloo 1972 Tube stock and Overground Class 710) between Queen’s Park and Harrow & Wealdstone, which are compromise height platforms. There is a similar shared stock platform height issue between Rayners Lane and Uxbridge at a compromise height for use by Piccadilly 1973 Tube stock and Sub-Surface Metropolitan S8 stock. Ladbroke Grove station platform had previously been modified to be level boarding for the previous stock. Unfortunately, on the current stock, there is a considerable step. This demonstrates some of the complexity of rolling stock and infrastructure issues. Mike Horne looked at these compromise platforms in detail.

It will take TfL until August 2025 to refurbish Bakerloo line trains to have dedicated spaces for wheelchairs and pushchairs. Fortunately, all related Bakerloo station works – platform humps and manual ramps – are now complete. But it is more than just making space on trains – flooring with colour contrasts, grab poles, lower passenger alarms, and information systems need to be retrofitted.

Is the New Tube for London better for Accessibility?

A related issue of platform screen doors has led to some hard thinking about how the next generation of Jubilee line trains is locked into the door layout of the existing trains. To achieve the triple customer facing objectives of all double doorways, through gangways, and air conditioning, it is extremely unlikely that this could be achieved with the existing seven, two bogie car configuration. This problem was recognised in developing the New Tube for London (NTfL) concept, but it also consciously focused on all the other Tube lines that could benefit. The next generation Piccadilly line 2024 stock train’s related design constraints were described in this Rail Engineer article. The first of these trains are due to be delivered to London in July 2024, for service entry planned for 2025.

Siemens Piccadilly Line Train

The Northern and Jubilee stock had seen floor height creep up to 760 mm. For NTfL, one of the design engineers insisted on no ramps within the saloons and no higher than 700 mm – on the basis that they were never going to be able to get down to about 550 mm, so platform humps would inevitably be needed. The humps work on the Tube because all trains have generally the same door alignment and the hump can be a bit longer than strictly necessary to allow for future changes.

You may have noticed that each Tube line’s humps are in a different location. For example, the Victoria line’s humps are in the middle of the platform, whereas on the Northern and Central lines, they are towards the front of the train. These decisions are made based on the train layout and the locations on platforms of minimum curvature, to minimise the gap.

In developing the Deep Tube programme, before it was truncated to the Piccadilly trains only, the designers thought long and hard about the so-called compromise height platforms. They proposed finding a way to provide four platforms at Rayners Lane and terminating the Piccadilly line there with a Tube height and a surface height platform on either side of two island platforms. This was shown to be incredibly expensive, with significant overall customer drawbacks and was abandoned in favour of ramps. Similar segregation studies were carried out for the Harrow and Wealdstone service on the Bakerloo line.

One of the benefits of running the Piccadilly line to Ealing Broadway instead of the District line compromise height platforms to be eliminated at Hammersmith, Acton Town, and Ealing Common.

Platform humps are not the perfect solution

However, the differing platform heights of Sub-Surface and Tube stock already makes through running and track sharing at an interchange (for instance, Rayners Lane) either impossible, or require humps. And in the case of the Uxbridge line, it required lowering all the platforms as well.

Although seemingly a relatively simple solution to the PTI height gap issue, platform humps (and extensions) lock the line into particular rolling stock layouts, setting in stone the door spacing. This is the case even where different rolling stock has the same floor height. Changing humps to meet new stock door configurations and spacing, as well as with differing end/centre train throw characteristics, would require substantial line closures (and lost revenue), in addition to the labour and material cost.

Waterloo Underground platform hump

Bridging device trial on the Jubilee line

TfL conducted a survey on the traveling public’s views on the network’s step-free access that completed in early 2022. It published its summary report, which was used as an input to TfL’s 2023 Business Plan. It notes that 19% of London’s population have a disability, and that TfL will refurbish around 50 stations lifts and 30 escalators to maintain step-free accessibility. It is this survey that likely led to the following Jubilee line train-platform gap bridging device trial.

Underground train bridging device. TfL

Some Tube stations that qualify as step-free from street to train still have a vertical step of 50mm or less, and a horizontal gap of 75mm or less. Some customers have told TfL that this gap is still a barrier to them being able to get on and off trains independently. Namely, some wheelchair front wheels can fall down into this gap. A ramp (in TfL speak, a bridging device) put in place by a member of staff (contacted here) will cover the remaining gap between the platform and the train. TfL conducted a trial of the devices at the following eight stations on the Jubilee line until February 2023:


Canada Water

Canary Wharf

Canning Town

Green Park

London Bridge

North Greenwich


There has been no word yet on the results of this trial.

TfL’s Station Accessibility Plans and Progress

Currently, a third of Underground stations (92 in total) and 62 Overground stations (55% of that network) have step-free access. TfL is planning for the next stations to be upgraded. In the near term, they are:

Bank received step-free access to the Northern line at the new entrance on Cannon Street when it opened in February 2023, as well as improved step-free access to the DLR platforms;

Knightsbridge will be step free by mid-2024, via a new entrance at Hooper’s Court;

Paddington Underground station will have step-free access to Bakerloo line trains from the new plaza on Praed Street, to complete in mid-2024;

In 2024, TfL will start step-free access works at Leyton and Colindale Underground stations;

Several Overground stations may be made accessible from 2024 onwards: Battersea Park, Hackney Downs, Peckham Rye, Queen’s Park, Seven Sisters, Surrey Canal, Surrey Quays, ‘subject to review’ officially, which usually means subject to funding.

TfL will also begin next phase of the Underground step-free access programme, based on the prioritisation model. This will likely improve step-free access on the southern section of the Northern line, and explore the feasibility of starting step-free access work at stations in other areas of London in 2024 and 2025.

The prioritisation model is based on the results of TfL’s 2022 public consultation on what people thought about Underground step-free access. The consultation asked ‘What’s important in a step-free Tube station?’ rather than ‘Which stations shall we make step-free?’, as these priorities can be applied fairly across London. They also provide a deeper understanding of people’s needs than asking them to vote for a number of stations.

In developing the model, TfL assessed:

Deliverability, such as whether it was a deep-level station, the minimum number of lifts required and available land;

Benefits, like journey time savings and social benefit;

Availability of funding – identifying stations with existing external funding opportunities.

TfL also asked ‘Should we prioritise making stations step-free if they already have…’, to which respondents indicated the most important were:

85% – Interchange with other Underground lines

75% – Interchange with National Rail stations

65% – Interchange with local rail such as Overground stations

59% – Interchange with buses

54% – Are within easy reach of a hospital or health care service

49% – Are within easy reach of a town centre

Respondents also indicated the importance of plugging gaps where there are large areas with no step-free stations. TfL included all of this data to prioritise their scoring against the available budget. With limited funding in 2023/24 the focus will be on feasibility studies to refine our understanding of costs, disruption during construction and benefits.

The paucity of upgrading existing stations to step-free accessibility going forward is noticeable, but it is clear from some Underground stations listed above that some stations require new, accessible entrances to be constructed. These are, obviously, quite expensive.

Elizabeth Line/Crossrail

Fortunately, all Crossrail stations are step-free accessible, and the line’s opening has added a much-needed increase in accessibility in and across London. The core tunnel and a few stations east of the core (Paddington to Abbey Wood) were designed with a high platform interface – as it includes the busiest section. TfL purchased high floor Class 345s for the line to provide the level boarding for the central station platforms. However, the existing stations that Crossrail took over have lower platforms than Crossrail’s core section, meaning a mismatch at the platform-train interface. As a result, special signage has had to be installed in these stations to encourage people who need assistance west of Paddington or on the Shenfield line to board at the correct doors for level access.

However, many of the non-core stations still require a ramp for wheeled mobility devices to board and alight. This works when there is a staff member and ramp available, however this is not a certain occurrence, as wheelchair user Katie Pennick found out. This means the only dependable fix is now to adjust the height of non-core platforms to get level boarding, and slide-out ramps to cover the gap if necessary.


Liverpool recently launched its new Class 777 trains into service on its regional Merseyrail network. The trains feature more room for bikes and wheelchairs, phone charging, and Wi-Fi onboard. But more importantly, the trains are level with all Merseyrail station platforms, plus they have sliding steps at each door to automatically fill the gap. The network is now completely level boarding as the new trains have been rolled out on all Merseyrail lines in December 2023.

This was achieved by Merseyrail setting this objective in 2015. In all, 92 platforms at 56 stations were adjusted for height, offset, or both. And many are being lengthened to allow for future 8-car trains. We note that the Merseyrail Class 777s have a floor height of 960 mm, whilst the nominal standard UK platform height is 915mm.

Manchester Metrolink

This high floor tram system has consistent level boarding across the network, and the raised platform islands (with accessible ramps to the street) provide a safe waiting location for waiting passengers segregated from cars and lorries/HGVs. The islands are an integral part of the city centre urban form, providing a street crossing refuge.

Other UK cities’ rail networks

All UK modern tramways and the Tyne and Wear Metro, are entirely level access and step free.

Note that floor heights of trams and railway passenger cars are divided into several categories:

Ultra Low Floor  tram – 180 mm (7 in)

Low floor  tram – 300 to 350 mm (12 to 14 in)

High floor tram – more than 600 mm (24 in)

Low floor train – 550 mm (22 in)

Train (in UK or narrow gauge) – 800 to 1,200 mm (31.5 to 47.2 in)

Next on Level Boarding

In our next installment, we shall look at Network Rail, Transport for Wales, and ScotRail accessibility efforts and status, as well as a brief comparison to some national networks in Europe.

Thanks to the LR Towers Brain Trust for the detailed information and background for this post.

The post Much Ado about Level Boarding: TfL & UK Urban Rail (Part 1) appeared first on London Reconnections.

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