“I’m very worried that Crossrail doesn’t have enough escalators”

A worryingly small number of escalators at Liverpool Street Crossrail station. Image: Getty.

Last weekend was Open House, a fantastic chance to check out some amazing buildings and sites around London. Visiting Farringdon’s future Crossrail station, however, reminded me of a worrying thought I’d had some years prior:

Crossrail, vaunted as the solution to all London’s problems, isn’t being built with enough escalators in each station. And we’re really going to regret that in years to come.

Surely my non-technical opinion is irrelevant, you would hope, because this has all been worked out by proper transport planners and engineers, people will degrees, and more than my B in Maths at GCSE. Sadly experience teaches us that this isn’t always the case. The Victoria Line is a good example: escalators were taken out of the plans as part of cost-saving efforts ahead of construction.

More recently there are the shortcomings at points on the Jubilee Line. At Canada Water, the two escalators from Jubilee to East London Line proved to be vastly fewer than needed. At North Greenwich, the station closed a mere six years after opening for the addition of another escalator “to meet demand from development on the peninsula” – development that was entirely predictable and was indeed one of the main reasons the station was being built in the first place

My point is, TfL does get these things wrong, either through cock-up, or through a need to deliver something to a budget. So, how many escalators should you have in a Crossrail station? Time to do some maths!

In 2002, academics at the Indian Institute of Management and the LSE conducted a study on escalator capacity. Behaviours can change capacity (see Holborn’s foolish experiments with banning walking on the left), but basically, on the London Underground, you can move 110 people per minute (ppm) on one standard escalator: that’s 6600 per hour.

The shiny nine car class 345 trains ordered for Crossrail have a capacity of 1500 people. Crucially, the platforms have been built long enough to extend this to 11 cars, for a potential capacity per train of around 1,800. Crossrail is planning for 24 trains per hour (tph), but the line was designed for 30 tph to be possible. Once those changes are brought into use, and with trains in two directions, that gives us a maximum number of people passing through a central Crossrail station at peak time of 108,000.


It’s not likely that everyone is not going to get off every train at one station except in an emergency. But at peak times, the idea that half the passengers on a train might get off at key stations – Liverpool Street, say – does not seem unreasonable. After all, from the east this service replaces the Shenfield metro, so many people will have commutes planned around alighting at that station; and from the west, Crossrail will be far the fastest and most pleasant route into the City.

With half the potential capacity alighting at Liverpool Street - some 54,000 passengers per hour - you would require eight up escalators to remove the arriving passengers from the platform at the rate they arrive. That’s before you’ve provided any down capacity, which will also be in high demand from passengers arriving from mainline services wanting to get to the West End and Canary Wharf.

So how many escalators does Crossrail have planned for its Liverpool Street station? It appears to be six. Six is the number of escalators the Victoria Line’s planners put in to serve Victoria Station, which became inadequate in the 1990s, and where TfL ending up spending £700m on a painful project to add three more.

It’s also three fewer than the nine that serve the Central Line at Liverpool Street – a line with a total capacity of slightly more than half that of Crossrail. If nine is what’s needed for the Central Line at Liverpool Street, and the Victoria Line at Victoria, scaling up to Crossrail’s foreseeable passenger capacity would suggest a potential requirement of 16.

And then there’s maintenance. As everyone who has regularly used a tube station knows, three escalators being present does not mean three escalators will be available. Every ten years or so, they close them off one at a time for maintenance that seems to take between six months and a year.

Perhaps this is all nonsense; perhaps they have got it right this time. But I fear that, a decade or two from now, when those same engineers start costing up the remarkably expensive “Liverpool Street Crossrail Platform Access Enhancement Project”, I’ll have a moment of schadenfreude, which I can enjoy for a few minutes as I queue to get off the platform.

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Older people need better homes – but then, so does everybody else

Colne, Lancashire. Image: Getty.

Towards the end of last year, I started as an associate director at the Centre for Ageing Better, working particularly on our goal around safe and accessible homes. Before I arrived, Ageing Better had established some ambitious goals for this work: by 2030, we want the number of homes classed as decent to increase by a million, and by the same date to ensure that at least half of all new homes are built to be fully accessible.

We’ve all heard the statistics about the huge growth in the number of households headed by someone over 65, and the exponential growth in the number of households of people over 85. Frustratingly, this is often presented as a problem to be solved rather than a major success story of post war social and health policy. Older people, like everyone else, have ambitions for the future, opportunities to make a full contribution to their communities and to continue to work in fulfilling jobs.

It is also essential that older people, again like everyone else, should live in decent and accessible homes. In the last 50 years we have made real progress in improving the quality of our homes, but we still have a lot to do. Our new research shows that over 4 million homes across England fail to meet the government’s basic standards of decency. And a higher proportion of older people live in these homes than the population more generally, with over a million people over the age of 55 living in conditions that pose a risk to their health or safety.

It shouldn’t be too difficult to ensure all our homes meet a decent standard. A small number of homes require major and expensive remedial work, but the overwhelming majority need less than £3,000 to hit the mark. We know how to do it. We now need the political will to make it a priority. Apart from the benefits to the people living in the homes, investment of this kind is great for the economy, especially when so many of our skilled tradespeople are older. Imagine if they were part of training young people to learn these skills.


At a recent staff away day, we explored where we would ideally want to live in our later lives. This was not a stretch for me, although for some of our younger colleagues it is a long way into the future.

The point at which the conversation really took off for me was when we moved away from government definitions of decency and accessibility and began to explore the principles of what great homes for older people would be like. We agreed they needed light and space (by which we meant real space – our national obsession with number of bedrooms as opposed to space has led to us building the smallest new homes in Europe).

We agreed, too, that they needed to be as flexible as possible so that the space could be used differently as our needs change. We thought access to safe outdoor space was essential and that the homes should be digitally connected and in places that maximise the potential for social connection.

Of course, it took us just a few seconds to realise that this is true for virtually everyone. As a nation we have been dismal at moving away from three-bed boxes to thinking differently about what our homes should look like. In a world of technology and factory building, and as we build the new generation of homes we desperately need, we have a real chance to be bold.

Great, flexible homes with light and space, in the places where people want to live. Surely it’s not too much to ask?

David Orr is associate director – homes at the Centre for Ageing Better.