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HS2 is setting new standards for accessibility

HS2 is setting new standards for accessibility
31st January 2019 Ian Streets

Even before the HS2 rail project has left the station there are some calling for it to be shunted into the sidings. But whatever happens with a project priced at £56 billion by the Department of Transport, it has already delivered accessibility lessons which others can learn from.
At About Access, we visited two testing centres to look at the work being carried out to address a key accessibility issue – that of minding the gap, if we may borrow a phrase more commonly connected with the London underground.
At the first centre, the test team had set up a rig to look at the interface between the platform and the carriage. They want the gap to be the minimum possible, and far less than the current, inconsistent norm.
It’s the right thing to do. It’s good practice. It makes life easier for passengers and it helps the rail operator because every time you have to get a portable ramp to help a wheelchair-user it inconveniences the passenger and adds to the amount of time the train has to spend in the station.
Having a gap that is as level as it can be and as small as possible makes good financial and business sense.
HS2 have carried out many hours testing various aspects of the service including different types of rail users and their luggage. The findings will be fed into the contracts for the supply of the rolling stock. We were involved at the early stages as they simulated people boarding and alighting from the carriages.
They set up a mock carriage and fitted it out, and they had a platform where they could alter the height and assess the ease or difficulty for people getting on and off the train. Some had prams and buggies, some had heavy luggage, some were wheelchair-users and there were non-disabled people. It was a wide range of users.
Everything was filmed and questionnaires were handed out to everyone present. They received responses from hundreds of people and did the same again at the second exercise.
The work is all part of HS2’s commitment to ensure an inclusive approach by engaging with all stakeholders fairly, delivering value through effective management of the design and build and operating a safe, sustainable and reliable system to provide exceptional levels of service.
They pledge to embed equality, diversity and inclusion into all their activities, and they promise to seek out opportunities to promote inclusive development. Their definition of stakeholders includes people with protected characteristics, and their commitment will continue through the planning, design, construction and operational phases.
It is particularly encouraging that HS2 are working on such a fundamental practical concern at the design stage, and we see clear parallels between this process and the way that people should work on buildings – testing equipment and facilities and talking to disabled people and service users generally
The rail scenario presents specific challenges because the environment can vary so much. In a building such features as ramps, lifts and handrails don’t go anywhere – they stay in the same location. But platform heights can vary from one station to another and carriage heights are far from uniform. Even in a relatively quiet station you could have seven or eight different types of carriage in use on any one day.
With the HS2 carriages the preferred technique is to make the ramp part of the doorway. It can then be extended to bridge to the platform but the obvious issues are distance and gradient. The research conducted has allowed HS2 to develop a solution that minimises the risk of these becoming barriers to access.
Kneeling buses have been a great innovation in the transport sector and the work of the HS2 team could be a significant move in bringing similar improvements to rail travel.


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