Easy Access

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For the vast majority of people climbing a few steps to board a bus, train or tram is no more difficult than going upstairs in their house. However, for some they pose difficulties, or even impossibilities; furthermore the steps increase the time it takes even the most able-bodied of people to board / alight the vehicle and can pose a tripping hazard, so with these issues in mind ease of accessibility is now seen as an essential requirement for all new public transports - which benefits "everyone".

It is estimated that in the UK about 16% of the population is disabled (including the blind and deaf etc.,), which out of a total population of approximately 55 million equates to about 8.8 million. Of this figure only 2% need wheelchairs (about 176,000 people) however easy access transports also benefit other 'special needs' groups such as people carrying heavy shopping or parents with children in pushchairs who are now able to wheel the chairs aboard while their children remain seated, or even the fit, young sports fanatic who broke a leg skiing and now has it in a plaster cast!!

Easy access transports also help with social inclusion, making the regular public transports accessible to passengers who hitherto had found public transport exceptionally user-unfriendly and consequentially tried to avoid it. However, it should be noted that there will still be some people for whom specialist "dial a ride" services which take them from door to door and where the driver assists with boarding and alighting are required. These latter transports are not looked at on this page.

'Personal Wheeled Transports' And The PTW Acronym

To avoid constantly repeating that accessibility is as much as about wheelchairs as wheeled conveyances designed for children (which are often called pushchairs / buggies / strollers) this page often uses the generic term 'personal wheeled transport' or the acronym 'PTW'.

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Easy access allows people in electric wheelchairs to drive themselves aboard unaided. (Grenoble, France.) Easy access also means that temporarily disabled people can still use the transport.
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Even double-decker buses can offer easy access - albeit only to the lower deck. Accessibility extends to taxi-cabs too!
The bus and taxi were being demonstrated on the Transport For London stand at the 2001 UITP exhibition in London.

Page Index.

The Need For Common Sense
NOT "Politically Correct But Brain Dead" Rule Following!

Quite rightly special needs accessibility is about empowering people who for whatever reason have special needs to lead full and productive lives in the same way as the rest of the population. Included in the list of special needs are people whose eyesight is less than "20/20", and everyone will understand that this restricts their mobility and choice of travel options. (For instance: these people would not normally be allowed to drive a motor vehicle).

To assist people with less good eyesight there are regulations regarding certain visual elements of transport design. For instance, train doors should be painted in different colours so that they stand out, making it easier to see where to board. All this is well and good.

However, in 2006 a decision was taken regarding the way in which regulations for the needs of people with visual impairment are implemented that actually resulted in severe disbenefit - to ALL passengers, whatever their physical capabilities.

Apparently the internal passenger information screens on a fleet of trains used text which was 3mm smaller than the minimum specified in the regulations. The fact that the information displays were installed a year before the regulations were created seems to count for nothing, even though what are known as "grandfather rights" usually mean that specific instances which were extant before a change in the rules will still be permitted afterwards.

The net result of this is that because the letter size is 32mm instead of the required 35mm in height so the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee ruled that the trains must not be used to carry passengers. It was estimated that changing the font size would cost £750,000, which because the trains were scheduled for withdrawal in 2007 would represent a severe wastage of money.

With a shortage of alternative trains all this means is that services were cancelled or formed by shorter trains. Either way overcrowding resulted, with more passengers being forced to stand too.

It is crazy to the point of being farcical that in the name of special needs access actions are taken from which ALL passengers must suffer. The people who stand to disbenefit the most from the overcrowding are other disabled people - although it has to be questioned whether people who make rulings such as this could themselves be disabled - in the cranial cavity.

As the title of this section suggests, there is a need for common sense - and not "politically correct but brain dead" rule following!

Buses And Coaches

There are various ways in which buses can be made more accessible.

One of these involves kneeling technology whereby the driver temporarily lowers the vehicles' suspension by a few inches to reduce the gap between the kerb and the buses' floor. This only takes a second or so, (as does raising the bus afterwards) so should not delay the normal smooth running of the service.

For buses with just the one set of passenger doors at the front only the front of the vehicle needs to 'kneel', while for buses with several sets of doors along the vehicle's side (in some places buses can have as many as four sets of passenger doors along the side) the vehicle will 'kneel' along the whole kerbside (see picture).

Clearly visible is how vehicle is tilted towards kerb. See caption for picture information.
A kneeling trolleybus in Schaffhausen, Switzerland. Low floor minibus. Note the pushchair symbol under the illuminated button that passengers must press to open the door.
Projector icon There are two short video clips showing kneeling buses in action ....
This link is for a 41 second video clip named 'Schaffhausen-1-Kneeling320.mpg' which was filmed from directly in front of the bus.
This link is for a 62 second video clip named 'Schaffhausen-2-Kneeling320.mpg' which was filmed from the side of the bus. Also note how the passengers use the centre and rear doors only - and that the doors automatically close after about five seconds without passengers having passed through them.

Whilst kneeling technology helps people who can walk they will still need to climb several steps to enter the bus, so the benefits of kneeling technology can be somewhat limited.

In addition, although the technology may benefit some passengers it is not universally welcomed. Especially on longer journeys some passengers complain that the constant 'up / down' of the kneeling suspension gives rise to feelings of seasickness!

To further improve access many modern bus designs feature low floors along part or all of their length, the idea being to create a fully accessible vehicle that can be used by almost anyone - including parents with children in pushchairs and people who use wheelchairs (although due to space limitations within the vehicle most buses can only carry one wheelchair at a time).

To further help these two groups of passengers some low floor buses will also feature driver-controlled retractable ramps.

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Two views of a low-floor trolleybus showing the single step required to board such a vehicle.
Close up of other view.
Some low floor buses are fitted with extending ramps to help bridge the gap between the buses' floor and the kerb; these benefit many groups of passengers, including wheelchair users and parents with children in pushchairs - because the children can now remain in the chair. (Picture taken at press photo-shoot when the low floor buses were launched).

Low floor technology is compatible with kneeling technology and together they considerably enhance the accessibility of buses. However, also of extreme importance is the vehicle's ability to 'dock' at the correct position at the bus stop. Both technologies are designed to reduce the gap between the buses' floor and the kerb, so if the buses cannot get to the kerb then they are compromised. The situation is most severe for wheelchair users because if the ramp has to extend onto the roadway (instead of the footpath) then the angle may become too steep and this could create a safety hazard. As a result the passenger would then be unable to board / alight at that stop.

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A low floor bus showing that the raised platform on an "O-Bahn" kerb guided busway permits the type of step-free level-access as is often found on newly built and upgraded tramways. Improved accessibility is only possible when other vehicles do not prevent buses from reaching the bus stop.
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In Curitiba, Brazil they use high-floor buses which call at high-floor 'tube-style' bus stops. These images which were sourced from the bus manufacturer's promotional material show one of these buses and how the specialist bus stops feature lifting step plates to make them 'special needs' friendly.

For single-deck coaches low floors are less practical as the luggage compartments are usually located under the seats. (A few coaches sometimes haul luggage trailers but that is an expensive option).

For people who use wheelchairs most new coaches include some means of admittance - often a wheelchair lift - and restraints / locking devices inside the vehicle to hold the chair in position once on board.

People with special needs who can walk will either have to climb the steps to board or enter in a wheelchair, even if - once on board - they can then walk to a 'normal' seat.

For double-deck coaches the chances are that there will be a passenger saloon on the lower deck so as with double-deck buses it should be possible to provide a wheelchair ramp.

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A single deck coach with a powered wheelchair lift.
Image courtesy and © copyright of Peter Makinson.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to allowing wheelchairs on coaches is the large variety of wheelchair shapes and sizes, the challenges being two-fold:-

  1. Large electric wheelchairs can be awkward to manouevre, requiring plenty of space to move about, (I know this as I regularly visit an elderly persons residential home) and the only way to make the necessary space available is to reduce the vehicle's seating capacity for other fare-paying passengers.

  2. Once on board safety dictates that wheelchairs MUST be restrained, otherwise they will move about during the journey. But wheelchairs come in so many different types and sizes that it is not easy for coach manufactures to make suitable restraints that are compatible with every wheelchairs' anchor points. (Assuming that is, the wheelchair has some anchor points!)

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Nowadays most new rail systems are built with accessibility as part of the design criteria. Many transport operators would also like to upgrade their older facilities to similar standards but it is not always easy.

Heavy Rail

Perhaps the biggest hurdle for heavy rail is finding the money as station upgrades can be very expensive. For some stations the sheer practicality of how to upgrade will also be a significant challenge.

As some fo these views suggest, it is important to remember that sometimes even otherwise fit able-bodied people join the ranks of the "special needs access".

See caption for picture information. As part of their route to the platforms 'special needs' passengers will usually need to pass through a ticket gate (just like everyone else).

This is easily facilitated by means of extra wide accessible ticket gates, as seen here at a station on the London Underground.

Most stations have steps in the passageways which link the platforms to the ticket halls & street exits and it may be possible to replace these steps with ramps or put in chair lifts. Other options also include replacing the whole passageway with a long ramp or creating brand new routes between the street & ticket hall and ticket hall & platforms so as to completely bypass the steps. This could be horrendously expensive for underground stations which may require new tunnelling. Naturally these new routes must not provide the opportunity for passengers to enter the system without buying a ticket.

It is also important that any works which improve accessibility do not in the process create safety hazards for the 'able-bodied' passengers. This especially applies to busy stations with platforms and passageways which often become crowded and where reduced space could create a safety hazard due to overcrowding.

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Ramped access gives equal access to all. A chairlift on a station stairwell.
See text (below) for more information.

In the view (above right) taken from my local suburban railway station (Ilford) the chairlift can just be seen in the folded upright position on the left wall. (It has a black and yellow striped edge). A sign on it advises that the safe working weight limit is 330lbs / 150kg. Incidentally the sign on the awning above the stairs reads Please do not run on the stairs. It is better to miss your train than break your leg. As there was a train in the platform when I took this picture (it was fast train too - which at the time only came every half hour) I did make sure that I caught it!

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A glass-walled passenger lift (elevator in American) sharing part of a station stairwell. Special ramped section located within the stairwell.
Also note the lift to street.
See text (below) for more information.

The view (above left) shows an angled lift with glass see-through walls that shares the stairwell. (The lift is at the upper level with the doors open). The idea of the see-through walls is that the visibility increases personal safety for lift users and deters those who might commit a crime if it had opaque walls

The view (above right) shows a special ramped section located within the stairwell that allows parents with children in pushchairs to use the steps. The inset shows the twin ramps (for the pushchair's wheels) and steps between them. This facility is also of use for cyclists. Also seen is the glass lift up to street level.

See caption for picture information. This stairway includes a folded metal strip (a few inches from the far side) as this allows cyclists to wheel their bikes up / down instead of carrying them.
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A "baggage-belt" fitted in the stairwell makes light work of taking heavy luggage upstairs to the station platform,
but does not help with any of the other special needs.
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A recent trend is for the stairways at new-build and older refurbished stations to be fitted with double handrails. This is seen as a 'health and safety' measure to benefit those who are not very tall (typically childen) and therefore might not be able to reach handrails located at the normal height above the ground.

Having reached the platform the ability to see where to board the train once it has arrived poses problems for some people.

There are many types of 'special need' and to help people whose eyesight is an issue here in Britain it is a requirement that trains have doors which are painted in contrasting colours which make them easier to see.

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These photographs show train doors as they might be seen by someone with less than 20/20 vision. Note how much more easy it is to see the doors which are in a contrasting colour.

For many people level boarding is also desirable (even able-bodied passengers find it faster - reducing the station dwell time; and safer - no step to trip over) but this will only be possible where all the trains that use the platform have the same floor height.

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Sometimes the height gap between the train and platform is so large that even able-bodied people have difficulty boarding the trains. The message on the platform edge reads "mind the gap". The type of train shown here was built by BR and not a privatised railco. Seen at East Croydon station. Level boarding! But to achieve this the railway line had to be closed for several years so that both the platform and the tracks could be rebuilt, with the latter being given a concrete mass base rather than the more usual ballast. Seen at a London Overground station which was previously on the London Underground's East London Line.

In 2009 a cheaper and easier / faster to implement solution to the height difference seen above left was trialled at Harrington station in Cumbria. Conceptually this is the same as the raised section of platform which the London Underground had already been trialling as seen below - left.

This solution was found to ease train access for passengers 'very significantly' - particularly 'personal wheeled transport' users - by reducing the height difference by as much 18in [0.5m].

Developed by Network Rail and Cumbria County Council and known as the Harrington Hump the raised sections are formed of a glass reinforced plastic. Each one can be customised for the specific station platforms and installed within days at a fraction of the cost of rebuilding the platform.

Images below: Network Rail press release http://www.networkrailmediacentre.co.uk/Press-Releases/VALLEY-STATION-TO-GET-A-NEW-HUMP-144f.aspx
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The Harrington Hump at Harrington station. Several stations now have these humps - this is St Albans Abbey, Hertfordshire.
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The raised section of platform seen here predates the Harrington Hump. It formed part of the first experimental attempts to find an affordable solution to creating level entry at certain specified train doorways on the London Underground. This is Bank on the Waterloo & City Line. Looking out towards the platform from inside a London small profile 'tube' train at one of the Bakerloo Line stations (South Kenton) where mainline trains also use the same platform.
Although there is a large height difference this is still less challenging than seen in the image with the train that has 'Connex South Central' branding several rows above - left.

London's railway system features several routes where the small profile 'tube' trains share tracks with the larger profile trains. As the floor heights on the different types of train varies quite considerably the only solution would be to invest in separate platforms. Involving at least 17 stations this will be expensive!

In the 1920's a special fleet of small profile 'tube' trains was built for London's Bakerloo line which featured floors 4½" (approximately 110 mm) higher than normal. This was seen as being a compromise height between the platform heights on the subterranean section solely used by the smaller profile trains and the platform height at stations shared with the mainline trains. However whilst this would have reduced the height gap at the shared stations it would not have introduced level access anywhere else.

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District Line: larger profile - train dimensions are similar to mainline trains - large step 'up' from platform into train. Piccadilly Line: smaller tube profile: requires a small step 'down' into train which is lower than platform level.
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The above pictures come from Ealing Common station. Note the 'mind the gap' message on the platform edge.
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Many overseas railways feature much lower station platforms than here in Britain so passengers must negotiate a few (often steep) steps when boarding / alighting the trains. Personal experience has shown that sometimes these can be a challenge even for the able-bodied - especially when travelling with heavy luggage! The yellow wheeled contraption on the platform in the view on the right is a wheelchair hoist which makes trains such as these fully accessible. These images come from Switzerland and show the ICN tilting trains.

Perhaps the primary reason why trains need to have the floor so high is so that it can be above the wheels. It is little known that London's small profile tube trains get around this by having the wheels actually penetrate through the floor, although this is not visible as the seating covers it.

Another way to serve low level station platforms is to have a 'drop centre' design of train where the section of the carriage which is not above the wheels is lower than the section which is above the wheels. This design is also fairly common on tramways and on double deck trains, except that with the latter there is another floor above the lower section.

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An Italian train which features a drop centre design that offers same level access from the platform to most of the seating area. In this image the area inside the open doors has been brightened so as to make it easier to see the steps up to the raised sections over the wheels.

Once Inside The train...

For many years wheelchair users used to have to travel in an unheated luggage area; nowadays modern trains include space for wheelchair accommodation in the main passenger carriages.

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Dedicated wheelchair space on longer distance (InterCity) trains. These images show 1st class (left) and standard class (right). Note the emergency call button, and the mains electricity power supply socket for laptops - which is not an accessibility issue and is only provided on some trains. Not shown is that normally an accessible toilet will be nearby.

Typically on longer distance (InterCity) trains the dedicated wheelchair space is at one end of the passenger seating area and is arranged so that the wheelchair user can sit at a table with other people.

Frequently on trains designed for other types of rail journey the space made available for people who use wheelchairs will be of the 'multi-user' type which is also aimed at other users of 'personal wheeled transports' - such as children in pushchairs (also known as buggies and strollers). Sometimes there will also be folding seats which - when the space is not required by a PTW user is available for everyone to use.

However,,, as with the PTW space on buses the rule is that at all times the area must be vacated when a wheelchair user needs to use this space. Even if it requires that the child is removed from the pushchair and the pushchair is folded up. As with the buses, although relatively rare it is not unknown for the people using this space to refuse to cede it, resulting in heated arguments - or worse.

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Individual folding seats on refurbished trains which did not originally offer any spaces for personal wheeled transports.
These views show a former British Railways train left (Class 313) and a London Underground train right (District Line D78 stock).
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On this older train (also former British Railways Class 313 - but used by a different train operating company) it was decided to simply remove a cluster of four seats in the section under the pantograph (the device which collects electrical power from the overhead wires) where the ceiling is lower.
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In London the 'solution' being adopted for the new (large profile) subsurface trains is for there to be 'special needs' space throughout the train, even on trains used on outer suburban routes where journey times in excess of 30 minutes are typical. The idea is to also create much standing space for rush hour crush loads when in inner London, however the consequential reduction in seating capacity significantly disbenefits everyone else - which includes walking 'special needs' passengers as well as able bodied passengers. This composite view inside some London Underground small profile 'tube' trains shows contrasting treatments for the 'special needs' spaces. Dating from the mid 1990's, the trains seen here were all built with four 'multi-user' spaces per car which can also be used to increase standing passenger capacity at busy times, but whilst the trains on the Northern Line (left) feature tip-up folding seats the Jubilee Line trains (right) have 'bum rests'. Other tube trains elsewhere on the network use different (or no) solutions, depending on when they were built or refurbished.

In Copenhagen, Denmark, the whole of the carriages at the train ends are designated as a 'PTW' space, which equates to 2 out of 8 carriages per train. The end carriages are more suited to this function as they are usually less busy. The rest of the train has high density transverse seating, so as to maximise seating capacity / to avoid disadvantaging everyone else. The needs of people who can walk but still have 'special needs' is looked at below.

This makes for a distinctive contrast with London's new subsurface trains, as seen above.

The Short Distance Trains page includes more information about these Copenhagen trains, plus also shows a British solution which features similar themed but smaller 'multi-user' spaces.

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This image from the Copenhagen S-Bahn shows a section of the train which has been designated for 'special needs' access, and as such features tip-up longitudinal seating and (on the right) hoops for bicycle front wheels. Folding triple seating base on a Sydney / New South Wales (Australia) Cityrail H Set train.
Image & license: Abesty / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0

Walking Passenger Special Needs

It is important to remember that 'special needs' does not just apply to 'PWT' users as there are many people who can walk but still have special needs. This includes people who walk using crutches, heavily pregnant ladies, older people who cannot stand for long periods of time and other groups of people who are perhaps less vociferous in demanding that their needs should receive greater recognition.

What these people needs is somewhere to sit down that is easily reached from the train's doors. Therefore many transport operators will designate otherwise ordinary seating that is very close to the train's doors as being for these people. Often these seats are also next to a pole / stanchion of some sort which the passenger can use as an aid to steady them as they sit down and when standing up prior to alighting from the train.

Below we look at some solutions aimed specifically as these people.

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Public Domain Wikipedia encyclopædia image.
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Image & license: mailer_diablo / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0 http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:TransperthTrains-A1Gen-Priority.JPG.
These images show solutions from Transperth trains which serve the West Australian city of Perth and its hinterland.
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Image & license: Tinho C. / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
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Image & license: Asacyan / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0 http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:MTR_Priority_Seats_6737.JPG.
These images show solutions from the Taipei (Taiwan) MRT left and Hong Kong MTR right.
As the Taipei image suggests, the dedicated special needs seats are different in colour to those on the rest of the carriage.
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These images show solutions on some of London's small profile tube trains.
As this website has benefited tremendously from other people's images so in the spirit of fairness full-size unedited master versions of these two London images have been placed on the free online "Wikipedia" encyclopædia so that people can download them from there - rather than pinch (which includes hot-linking) from this website and using my paid-for bandwidth. They were placed in this directory - which is where most of the other special needs seating images can also be found... http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Priority_seats ..

Double-deck (Bi-level) Trains

These trains usually come with two variants - either with entrance doors which lead to an intermediate level (with steps up/down to the main passenger saloons) or with entrance doors at the lower level and steps up to the upper level passenger saloon.

Either way level access is best described as "variable" and "depending on individual station platform heights" - so for wheelchairs ramps etc; may sometimes be required.

Once on the train then facilities will depend on the train's configuration - generally passengers will travel at either the intermediate or lower level, as per the passenger door positioning.

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On these Italian double-deck trains the doors lead to an intermediate level from where there are steps up / down to the main passenger saloons - except that some doorways feature a wheelchair accessible slope (instead of steps) down to the lower deck, so that once on the train (a process which needs a specialist wheelchair ramp, as the doors are not at platform height) wheelchair users can travel in the main part of the train with the rest of the passengers. Alongside the slope is an accessible toilet (washroom).
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Image & license: Abesty / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
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Image & license: Asacyan / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0 http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cityrail_h_set_vestibule.jpg.
By way of contrast, whilst wheelchair passengers using the Sydney / New South Wales (Australia) double-deck trains may also may need a specialist wheelchair ramp, once onboard they travel in the 'intermediate' height section of the train.
In the view on the right an accessible toilet can be seen through the closed doors to the next carriage.

In some countries low platforms are seen to be an advantageous design feature because it saves commuter rail operators from having to spend scarce funds on building high level platforms; which are often seen to be a costly luxury.

This platform is virtually at track height, so even with the train's entrance doors being at the lowest possible level they are still higher than the platform.

Although seen on a Canadian "GO" (Government of Ontario) service similar trains serve many conurbations within the USA and Canada.
See caption for picture information.

Double deck / bi-level trains are looked at on the
On-train Refreshment Facilities, Double-Deck Trains, & Taking Bicycles On Trains page.

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Light Rail

Newer light rail systems almost always have level boarding and other accessibility features designed as part of the system. To achieve this they will adopt one of two variables --

  • Low floor vehicles calling at kerb height platforms.

  • High floor vehicles calling at high level platforms.

Examples Of Accessibility For New Light Rail Systems

Low Floor

Grenoble, France; had the first fully accessible low floor tram system.

Right: In addition to having all its doors open the centre
two doorways also have their wheelchair ramps extended.
(Also seen in the picture at the top of this page).

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Above: A closer view of the extended wheelchair ramp
(plus part of the shadow from the platform shelter).
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This view shows how easily and unobtrusively the system's
low floor 'platforms' (literally raised kerbs) can be fitted
into the general streetscape.

High Floor

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The Tyne & Wear Metro: (See text below for more information). Manchester, England: Metrolink (See text below for more information).

Both the Tyne & Wear Metro and Manchester's Metrolink systems were based on pre-existing high-floor railway services, and feature high floor LRV's.

The Tyne & Wear Metro is nearer the 'top' end of the spectrum for light rail, and its vehicles do not enter the street domain.

By way of contrast the Metrolink system does include some sections of street operation, and when it first built it was decided that rather than install visually intrusive high level platforms within the urban street scene the street tramway stops within the city centre would be equipped with a novel style of profiled platform which offered easy access at the central pair of the tram's passenger doors. However this style of platform was not universally liked and all the trams stops involved have now been rebuilt with full-length high platforms.

Another part of the reason why the profiled platforms needed replacing was that they only offered accessibility to single-unit trams - if coupled pairs were being operated then passengers in the second tram would have to use a kerb-height platform and midway step would slide out of a pocket below each set of passenger doors, this being a solution that was only suitable for passengers who could negotiate steps.

Accessibility On Older, Historic Systems

In many conurbations the older historic systems are also being upgraded to improve accessibility and for these the solutions can involve either of the two above options, which - on larger systems - can vary according to each route's topography.

Examples Of How Older, Historic Systems Have Been Upgrading
1) Converting To Low-Floor

This solution is [typically] being adopted at times of fleet renewal, a process which sometimes is spread over many months / years and can lead to services of mixed easy-access and older inaccessible LRV's.

Lady having difficulty descending steps on an older tramcar. A new low floor tramcar, showing single entry step, flat internal floor and passengers with a child in a pushchair in a special area allocated for accessibility use.
Düsseldorf, Germany. The old and the new.
Left: A lady carefully descends the steps whilst alighting from an older high floor vehicle.
Right: As a contrast the new low floor vehicle offers a single step. Note the wheelchair and pushchair symbols on the glass of the right-hand door.

Examples Of How Older, Historic Systems Have Been Upgrading
2) Mixed High / Low Floor

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Basle, Switzerland -
converting older rolling stock to low floor.

A not articulated high-floor trailer rebuilt with extra doors and a new low floor section.

A new low floor section inserted into an existing articulated high-floor vehicle, thereby transforming it from a two section to a three section vehicle (and increasing overall passenger capacity in the process).

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Some trams were even designed - right from the outset - in this way, with low floor accessibility at only some of the doorways. There are some advantages in this - especially where the bogies / wheel units can be of the traditional type with full-width axles (and not stub axles) as these are generally considered to provide a better ride "quality".

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A high floor tram with a low floor section. Inside the high floor section of the tramcar. Immediately infront is the articulation, and beyond that is the low floor section - which is reached via steps.
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The doorway to the high floor section (left) and low floor section (right).

This specific Amsterdam, Holland tramcar has entrance doors on both side, however this is a different issue, (related to some tramstops on route 5 having platforms on the "other" side) and indeed other "high floor with low floor section" tramcars within the fleet only have doorways on one side.
Clicking any of these four images will open a larger version in a new window.

Examples Of How Older, Historic Systems Have Been Upgrading
3) Converting To High-Floor

Traditionally most trams and streetcars were of the 'high floor' type, with internal steps leading from street level up to the vehicle's floor which was well above the wheels, motors and other electrical equipment.

To achieve accessibility at this level the options include converting every stop to have high level platforms that match the floor height or use wheelchair lifts or ramps to a specific doorway. (See pictures at bottom of page).

Sometimes accessibility will only be available at some stops along the route, whilst this will regrettably inconvenience some people the other option - completely closing the stop - cannot be a better solution.

Generally systems will only choose the high floor option when the other two solutions are not seen to be viable alternatives. This is to avoid having to install the somewhat visually intrusive high platforms on urban streets throughout the town / city.

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A high floor stop located in the median of a dual carriageway. Note the access ramps at the platform ends. System-wide high floor accessibility does require high floor platforms within the street environment.

Stuttgart's modern light rail system evolved out of a traditional street tramway, and the planners have worked hard at eradicating situations where services stop in the middle of the road with passengers having to walk out in the path of oncoming traffic. The long-term plan (which was achieved in December 2010) has been to make as much of the system accessible as is possible, either by high level platforms or 'dipping' the tracks slightly below ground level so as to mimic the type of level access which is more commonly found with low floor vehicles. In some locations this has required existing stops to be relocated, or footpaths to be realigned so that they are alongside the tracks.

It could be said that the way in which Stuttgart has slowly (over 20+ years) invested in and upgraded its trams into modern light rail points to what should have been done in British cities too.

Modern light rail vehicle calling at a stop located in the middle of the road; boarding / alighting passengers must watch out for traffic. Modern light rail vehicle calling at a kerbside stop, with passenger climbing aboard.
High-floor LRV's calling at older 'middle of road' and 'kerbside' stops. In Stuttgart their LRV's are 'route specific' so only the vehicles that require them have the folding steps. Note however that when using their folding steps these vehicles are not "accessible".
Modern light rail vehicle calling at a stop located in the middle of the road; boarding / alighting passengers must watch out for traffic. Modern light rail vehicle calling at a kerbside stop, with passenger climbing aboard.
This stop is located on a road which has been closed to all rubber tyred transports (including buses) and rather than build high level platforms a less visually domineering solution has been adopted whereby the platforms are raised a little above the traditional kerb height and the tracks are 'dipped' slightly below ground level. This solution neatly provides the type of level access which is more commonly found with low floor vehicles.

Examples Of How Older, Historic Systems Have Been Upgrading
4)Interim / Transitional Solutions

Where high and low floor vehicles share tracks and call at the same stations the platforms are frequently split into two sections.

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This type of dual height / twin platform station is only possible where space allows - otherwise both types of vehicle will have to use 'low floor' platforms, as seen above.

In December 2007 Stuttgart's last traditional tram service was converted to light rail, however to permit using some of the older trams on leisure / nostalgia themed services the dual height platforms seen here are being retained at a few stops and stations.

Special Solutions For Where Light Rail Shares Track With Mainline Freight Trains

At the time of writing these solutions specifically apply to the German city of Kassel, on two routes in different parts of the city where trams have been extended over pre-existing single track heavy rail freight branches. On both routes the freight traffic is fairly light - at most just a handful of trains per day - plus there is the occasional leisure-orientated steam hauled passenger train. There is no reason why similar solutions could not be adopted elsewhere as well.

Although two different solutions have been adopted both address the same central issue - this being that the mainline trains are significantly wider than the trams, which in Kassel are mostly of the low-floor "easy access" design.

Mainline trains need a clearance width of 3.29m, this being considerably wider than the trams, which were designed for use over narrow inner-city routes and are just 2.3m wide. Another issue to be resolved was / is that to provide for easy access with low floor trams (which - when new and empty - have an internal doorway floor height of about 30cm) tramstop platforms are usually about 18 - 20 cm high, and located about 48cm away from the nearest rail, whilst (in Germany) for mainline railways the minimum platform height is 38cm and average distance from the inner rail is 97cm.

The difference between the tramstop platform height and the tramcar floor height [at the doorway] of about 10-12cm allows for door mechanisms to operate without fouling the platform - or the feet of any passenger standing very close to the platform edge! - and for varying actual tramcar heights depending on passenger loads, wheel tread depths, etc. This is still considered to "level access".

What was deemed to be "totally unacceptable" would be to simply locate the platforms in the correct position for the mainline railway loading gauge, as this would have resulted in large vertical and horizontal gaps between the tramcar and the platform, creating a potential hazard for able-bodied passengers and making access for wheelchairs virtually impossible. The alternative scenario of locating the platforms at the correct "tramcar" positions was equally unacceptable as it would have seen them fouling the mainline railway's loading gauge.

In the end two solutions were adopted:-

  • "Gauntleted" tracks.
  • Protruding platforms.

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"Gauntleted" tracks have been adopted at some stations on both of the routes where the trams run on the mainline railway. These images show trams calling at Helsa - Niederkaufungen Mitte on the route towards Helsa, which is south-east of the city. Note how the tramcars are nearer their correct platform.

On the Baunatal route to the south-west of the city only one station uses gauntleted tracks - and here trams travelling in one direction have their own dedicated track - with the mainline railway trains and trams sharing the other track. Consequently it only needs four tracks. (Not shown here - for image see the Track & Route Sharing page).

"Gauntleted" Tracks

This solution sees the trams using extra tracks that diverge slightly from the tracks used by the mainline trains. In Kassel this effectively sees the trams moving to one side (edge) of the mainline railway's loading gauge, however (if space permits) it would be relatively straightforward for the tram tracks to diverge slightly further out.

The advantage of this solution is that with the tramstop platforms being outside of the mainline railway's loading gauge they can be the correct location (relative to the tram) for low floor easy access. Gauntleting the tracks in this way was significantly cheaper than full separation - which would have required the acquisition of land alongside the railway.

Protruding Platforms

This solution features platforms which are slightly lower than usual (11.5cm instead of 18-20cm) and mostly outside of the mainline railway's loading gauge - but has small protrusions that extend toward the tracks and align with the tram's doors. The reduced platform height is necessary to avoid fouling the mainline railway trains.

Unfortunately the lower platform height makes wheelchair access "less easy" and one of the three stops where this solution was adopted has a wheelchair ramp fitted into one of the platform protrusions. This was done because it is close to a housing area for disabled people. Experience however has shown that frequently a helping hand from a second person is equally effective.

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To advise passengers waiting on the platform that they should not stand on the platform protrusions special signs such as this are used at stations with protruding platforms.
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To further encourage passengers to stay off the platform protrusions they are painted with black and yellow stripes, plus there are loudspeaker announcements when freight trains are scheduled to pass by.

The protrusions are only long enough to match up with the tram's doorways, although there is a little leeway to give the tram driver a stopping range of about a metre. These views were sourced at the Albert-Einstein-Strasse stop, which is on the route towards Baunatal.

Interim / Other Options

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Boston, USA. A ramp makes high floor vehicles wheelchair accessible at a 'kerb height' station. However this structure is only temporary as Boston's entire light rail system (including subway stations) feature 'kerb height' platforms and to match these Boston will soon have some new low floor vehicles. San Francisco, USA. Calling at a 'high floor' platform, while the vehicle entrance is set in 'kerb height' mode. In San Francisco the subway stations have high floor platforms, whereas the street sections still use 'kerb height' boarding; for accessibility some of these stops have ramps similar to those seen in the Boston picture.
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In North America low floor transport has only recently started to be introduced. Previously the policy had been to use wheelchair lifts located either at the front doorways (on buses) or on station platforms (light rail, as seen here). These give accessibility but delay the service and frequently cause embarrassment to the person in the wheelchair. Brussels, Belgium. A 'pre-metro' station built for eventual use by 'high-floor' metro trains. Until the metro reaches here services are provided by kerb-boarding trams, so the platforms were built with lowered sections. This arrangement will facilitate easy conversion to 'high-floor' when the time comes.
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At times of track maintenance it may be necessary to curtail services at temporary tram stops. These images show how a temporary wooden platform makes this possible in a way that complies with accessibility legislation. Croydon / London Tramlink.

We must not forget that 'special needs' encompasses a wide range of 'disabilities'. This includes people whose physical mobility is not an issue, but rather they have less than 20/20 vision.

Stations often provide transport users with maps which depending on the location will show the transport system, local area streets and (for larger stations) plans of the station to help passengers find their way around / to the correct platforms for their trains, etc.

The images below come from the main station in Strasbourg, France and Degerloch station in Stuttgart, Germany and show several braille map solutions. Whilst an exhaustive search was not carried out it seems Degerloch is the only station in Stuttgart which features braille maps such as these.

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Strasbourg: This map was located by an entrance door to the station and includes both visual and tactile (braille) information on the same map. Stuttgart: The main information display located in the middle of an island platform showing separate braille and (behind glass) visual maps.
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These Stuttgart images show the transport system maps in both visual and braille formats. Note however that the braille map is different to the visual map - this is because it reflects how the transport system was in the 1990's - since when ongoing upgrading works and the conversion of lines from street tramway to primarily off-street light rail has seen some significant differences in services, routes and destinations served.
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These Stuttgart images show streetmaps in both visual and braille formats for (left) the station plus local area and (right) the general area.

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re-load this page. About Railways Transport Integration - making it all mesh together as one seamless entity. Its high time we stopped polluting our cities - we have the technology, but not the willpower
The importance of well designed, functional stops and stations.
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A look at bus transport. Roads
Welcome to this site. NB: this link opens in a new window.
Fares and ticketing systems.
Nostalgia, Heritage & Leisure.
What needs doing to entice people out of their cars - and how to fund it!
Road pricing, road-user charging, motorway / expressway tolling, cordon charging and urban 'congestion' charging.
Bus priority systems
Feeders for mainstream transports and specialist transports meeting different needs.
About light rail - modern trams and streetcars.
The importance of freight trains.
Specific examples of how tram stops fit in the street scene and that trams and parked vehicles can coexist!
The bus gets a stylish makeover.
Railway electrification. Ideas to make roads safer.
Often overlooked alternative transports
Traffic free pedestrian zones and transit malls.
Does speed kill - or is it only inappropriate speed that kills (too fast / slow)?
Different types of passenger train as defined by the type of service they provide.
Create urban green corridors.
Quiet, clean buses that won't give you lungful of noxious exhaust fumes. Vehicles need to go somewhere at journey's end.
Let traffic congestion make you the unwilling victim of the crime of time theft!
Where different types of guided transport operate over shared infrastructure.

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