diamond geezer

 Tuesday, April 12, 2022

What's the longest tube journey entirely through step-free stations?

This isn't a particularly useful question because if you're making a step-free journey all that matters are the first and last stations and any interchanges along the way. But answering the question might tell us something interesting about the tube network, and you probably already have a good idea of what the correct answer is.

First let me confirm I'm only considering the tube, not the entire tube map.

Several TfL modes are entirely step-free, including the DLR, the trams and the cablecar. You can make a 100% accessible journey on any of these. From next month Crossrail will be fully accessible too, all bar Ilford (due to the poor condition of the concrete slabs supporting Cranbrook Road). This means a heck of a lot of the tube map is already step-free - officially just over half - but not the tube itself which languishes back at 33%.

So what I'm looking for is the longest possible chain of step-free tube stations, either on the same line or connecting via in-station interchange. And there's a very clear winner, way ahead of any other.

The Jubilee line has 13 consecutive step-free stations at its eastern end. That's the extension from Westminster to Stratford, completed 1999, plus Green Park (2012) plus Bond Street (2017). No matter where you board or alight within this section, lifts permitting, step-free access is fully available. You could also extend this step-free zone from Green Park to Victoria (2018) or from West Ham to Bromley-by-Bow (2018), but 13 stations remains the longest journey possible. Nowhere else comes close.

Second place goes to the outer reaches of the Northern line where Woodside Park → West Finchley → Finchley Central → Mill Hill East is all step-free. But that involves a change of train and is only four stations long so can't hold a candle to the Jubilee. And although seven different sections make third place they each comprise only three adjacent stations so they're even less impressive.
13 step-free stations: Bond Street → Stratford
4 step-free stations: Woodside Park → Mill Hill East
3 step-free stations: Chesham/Amersham → Chorleywood, Uxbridge → Ickenham, Heathrow T4 → Heathrow T5, Southfields → Wimbledon, Caledonian Road → Farringdon, South Woodford → Buckhurst Hill/Roding Valley, East Ham → Upney
2 step-free stations: Sudbury Hill → Sudbury Town, Osterley → Hounslow East, Kew Gardens → Richmond, Nine Elms → Battersea Power Station, Wembley Park → Kingsbury, Oakwood → Cockfosters
The fact I've just listed every occurrence of two adjacent step-free stations is a fairly damning indictment of the tube's general stepfreelessness. It's also a reflection of a geographic plan to spread out the step-free money to cover as much of the network as possible, in which case non-adjacent stations do that best.

Other than the Jubilee line these step-free chains are mostly in the outer suburbs where fewer people can take advantage, and at stations above ground where implementation of lifts was easier. Even in 2022 there are still only three tube stations inside the Circle line with step-free access, and all because those burrowing Edwardians really weren't looking ahead.

Now let's switch the question round and ask...

What's the longest tube journey that doesn't pass through any step-free stations?

Best start by answering this line by line.
Bakerloo (17 stations): Kensal Green → Elephant & Castle
Central (11 stations): Perivale → Marble Arch
Circle (11 stations): Sloane Square → Euston Square
District (5 stations): High St Kensington → Edgware Road
Hammersmith & City (4 stations): Latimer Road → Royal Oak
Jubilee (5 stations): West Hampstead → Baker Street
Metropolitan (5 stations): Watford → Northwood Hills
Northern (15 stations): Leicester Square → South Wimbledon
Piccadilly (6 stations): Manor House → Southgate
Victoria (3 stations): Oxford Circus → Euston
Waterloo & City (2 stations): entire line
Many of these totals are quite low, particularly on the sub-surface lines where lifts have less far to go so are easier to build. The Jubilee, Piccadilly and Victoria lines are also relatively accessible, because even where there aren't many step-free stations they have at least been well spaced out.

But three deep level lines are an accessibility disaster area, namely the Bakerloo, Central and Northern lines, each with huge gaps between a paltry number of step-free stations. The Bakerloo's appalling 17-station sequence will be cut to 11 when Crossrail opens up a link at Paddington, so hurrah for that. But substantial portions of these lines remain entirely off-limits to those with limited mobility, and look like remaining so because this is a phenomenally expensive problem to solve.

Next I wondered what the longest possible non-step-free journey was if you allowed one change of train, and came up with the following. It assumes that the Bank branch of the Northern line has reopened and the network's back to normal.
Bakerloo/Northern (28 stations): Kensal Green Elephant & Castle → South Wimbledon
This is a journey any able-bodied traveller could take without thinking, but to a wheelchair user this entire odyssey is off-limits. Again Crossrail at Paddington will help, but when there are only four step-free stations on the entire Bakerloo line it won't help much.

And the very longest tube journey that doesn't pass through a single step-free station (or double back on itself) looks to be this...
32 stations: Perivale Notting Hill Gate Edgware Road Baker Street Piccadilly Circus Leicester Square → Waterloo Elephant & Castle → South Wimbledon
That's a ridiculously convoluted journey, and not significantly longer than the Bakerloo/Northern two-hander I mentioned above. But the fact this monster safari exists is a measure of how much further the Underground has to go to become accessible to all, a situation that'd be hard to change even if TfL's coffers were overflowing, and very much unlikely to change much given they're not.

Instead let me leave you with the astonishing truth that only one part of the Underground has more than four adjacent step-free stations, and that's the Jubilee line extension. Thank heavens for the DLR, the trams and especially Crossrail, once it opens, because the tube remains resolutely stuck in a mire of inaccessibility.

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