Curran Brown tested out the Elizabeth line to see just how accessible it is for wheelchair users.
I'm an American who moved to London almost two years ago to pursue my master's degree in occupational therapy. Since coming here I have also joined the first women's wheelchair basketball league with East London Phoenix.
When I'm not studying or playing basketball, I'm usually using out looking for live music, art, or exploring London with my friends. I solely use public transportation to get around, and using the tube lines can be difficult due to non-accessible stations and tubes.
The biggest barrier for me getting from A to B is that the majority of the time, the completely accessible route tends to take longer. Arriving to a station where the lift isn't working — and having to re-route — is also frustrating. So, when I heard word of the Elizabeth line and all the talk on how accessible it is, I had to try it out.
Here are my thoughts on my trip from West Drayton to Abbey Wood. I stopped off at Tottenham Court Road, Liverpool Street, Whitechapel and Canary Wharf, to explore the stations, too.
Getting to and from the platform
One of the first things that strikes me about the central station is the copious amount of lifts they have. At Tottenham Court Road, there are three different elevators routes that will take you to and from the platform to the street. You don't have to go super far and out of the way to get to the lifts for the most part, so getting through the stations was pretty straightforward.
Some tube stations have NO lifts, so you really feel the benefit on the Elizabeth line.
At Canary Wharf, one of the elevators to get to the street was out of order — but I still had three remaining options to choose from.
What's more, the funicular at Liverpool Street station is very cool.
Using the platforms and corridors
Once you get off the elevator to platform level, signs point in the direction of the boarding place for wheelchairs. There are also huge blue stickers on the floor and a sign right above it. It's fantastically clear.
As for space: corridors and platforms at every station are so wide — plenty of room. I rode the line during peak time, and never felt cramped or trapped at any point. I can't say the same for the Met line platform at King's Cross during peak times (that feels like you're fighting for your life to get out).
Another nice touch on some of the corridors: signs telling me where to find the nearest accessible toilet.
Getting onto/off the trains
When I started out at West Drayton Station, I told a staff member my destination and they called someone to meet me at Paddington with a boarding ramp. (Generally, there are signs at Elizabeth line stations letting you know where you need to ask for a ramp.)
When I arrived to Paddington an employee was waiting for me with a ramp to get off. The staff were very attentive and I didn't even have to ask for help. Such a smooth process.
Having switched from Paddington station to its brand new entrance on the Elizabeth line, there is step free access from the train to the street at every stop from here to Abbey Wood. That means I don't need a boarding ramp, or to do any massive wheelies and flips to get over the gap.
On the trains
Boarded these trains feels like entering a whole new world. Everything is so clean, and the cool air-con feel incredible (especially when it was nearly 30 degrees outside on the day I travelled). The trains themselves are wide and spacious; I can roll through the aisles and manoeuvre well.
The wheelchair spot was a bit difficult to find at first because they are labelled on the wall, and coming in looking down the walkway, you cannot see the sign. However, a nice member of staff pointed me in the right direction. The wheelchair space itself is the size of three seats wide and a lot deeper than I'm used to — I can turn around without sticking out in the middle of the walkway.
This feels like a huge difference compared to lines like the Bakerloo or Central lines, where you feel cramped and have little room to turn around at all.
As far as accessibility on the Elizabeth line goes, I would rate the trains themselves 8.5/10, and the stations 9/10. Things will get even easier when the line finally all joins up, and changing at Liverpool Street or Paddington is no longer required. The only thing I would change is visible signs when looking down the train to locate the wheelchair spaces. All in all though, the Elizabeth line is a very good experience. I can’t wait to start using it more.
All images: Curran Brown/Londonist