We are delighted that the disused entrances at the southern end of Buckhurst Hill Underground Station are to be re-opened.
TfL announced on 29th June that six further stations on the network will get step-free access and that the first of these will be Buckhurst Hill, with work starting before the end of 2017, and completed on all six by 2020.
This follows a long period of lobbying by, among others, Chairman Jenn Page, Cllr Steven Neville, former committee members Tony Oliva and Cllr Gavin Chambers, and local MP Eleanor Laing.
An article, together with a photograph of Cllr Neville with current Chairman Jenn Page, was published in the Guardian on 6th July
Opening these entrances will substantially improve the accessibility to the Underground for those needing step-free access, making life easier for older and disabled people, as well as parents and carers with children and buggies. It will give a greater choice of travel options for everyone and it will particularly benefit residents in south Buckhurst Hill, for example in the Lower Queens Road and Princes Road areas, and commuters who use the Queens Road car park.
Nevertheless, the particular station layout at Buckhurst Hill means that whilst these entrances will provide step-free access, they are a long way from the bus stop and taxi rank at the main entrance, so it remains to be seen what difficulties those with disabilities may continue to face when using the Underground. The subway also forms an obstacle for wheelchair users.
Here is the TfL Guide to step-free access at all stations and it can be seen that many stations, including Woodford and Roding Valley, have limitations on their step-free access.
In August 2017 we obtained a copy of the Feasibility Study completed by TfL in February, and this provides some detail of what the opening of these entrances will mean in practice.
It is proposed that the stairs leading from the base of the subway to the platforms, which are currently disused, be made permanently out of use by constructing a platform over the top to increase the area available for ticket gates and queueing.
At each side there will be two control gates, one of which will be of the wide variety.
At each side there will be a ticket machine, though accepting cards only, not cash.
There will be CCTV; further measures to combat fare evasion and crime will be announced later.
Both ramps leading to the platforms (not the subway ones) are non-compliant with disability requirements. Measures will be taken to widen them and decrease the gradient (on the eastern side); they will still not be strictly compliant, but this is the best achievable given the constraints of the site.
The subway and its ramps are under the ownership of EFDC, and there is no mention of any works on these ramps. They are of course very non-compliant because of their gradient, and the metal barriers half way down. There is therefore no disability-compliant access from one side of the tracks to the other. It seems the TfL Guide to step-free access mentioned above will have to describe the official route for wheelchair users from Queen's Road to travel West will be the long way via Victoria Road, Palmerston Road and Albert Road, and vice-versa. However, the Feasibility Study itself includes an illustration of passenger routes only for able-bodied persons, but not the disabled, and therefore fails to disclose that one key objective of easy step-free access in both directions is not going to be achieved.
Works will also be done at South Woodford and Leyton, and there is a suggestion that these three projects will be done in parallel to save money. This means the completion of Buckhurst Hill will be later than if done sequentially with Buckhurst Hill the first.
Questions which remain to be answered include :-
Has a Contract for the works been signed?
When will the work be completed? (If not in 2018, why?)
Will the entrances be open the full time the station is open?
Will there be an intercom system to the main ticket office?
How will fare-dodging be prevented?
Is there a height difference between platform and train, and what is the procedure for calling a member of staff to use a manual ramp?
Will the outer security gates be completely removed or just locked open? (They are a hazard and also restrict flow.)
Will the barriers on the subway slopes be removed? (They stop cycles and skateboards, but are a hazard to wheelchairs.)Are there sufficient parking bays in the car park for disabled users? (An increase can be expected)