Following on from the conference call that took place between Network Rail, Richard Fuller MP, Central Beds and Biggleswade Town Councils, Govia Thameslink Railway and me on Monday, I’ve received the plans of what, at this time, are the two remaining options for the ramp/lifts layout at the station. During the conference call I stressed the importance of being open and transparent and asked that the plans be shared. I sensed a little reluctance at first, but pleased that they gave me permission to do so!
These two options are set out below. They are indicated as Option 4 and Option 5. At this time Option 4 is favoured for reasons I set out below. I should stress that nothing within the options are set in stone at this time.
Many factors have been considered before the narrowing down to these two options. What I should point out straight away is that we stressed the importance of retaining the current bridge, both as a ‘right of way’ for non-rail users and also an addition access/exit route for rail passengers.
Among the items considered were:
- Design and safety standards in relation to platform widths
- Distance of the various routes from entrance to platform
- Gradient of the ramps per each route option
- Integration with the proposed bus interchange
- ‘Future proofing’ of the station
- Access from the East of Biggleswade
- Operational issues during construction
When choosing the options it’s a balancing act of the pros and cons of each option. I initially favoured Option 5, as it was closer to the proposed bus interchange. However, Option 4 involves a ramp which has a shallower gradient to the ramp in Option 5 ( 1 in 20 as opposed to 1 in 16.5) and also has the benefits of a shorter route from the Eastern side of the station as well as being closer to the ticket office.
You will see in both options that there is no extension to the East side of the station. This is one reason why we insisted that the current bridge remains fully open – incidentally there was option that involved removing the bridge and the stairs – this has been 100% discounted! One of the proposed improvements to the station is to install sliding gates at the top of the current stairs, to stop access to the platforms outside of operating hours.
I had asked for the proposed additional bridge to be extended to the East side, but this has been discounted at this time. This is partially due to cost, but mainly due to the fact that the options set out are compliant with DfT standards of accessibility and therefore anything on top of this would be unlikely to be granted funding. I did however stress the importance of ‘future proofing’ the station. Network Rail agreed that the bridge would be designed in a way that would enable an Eastern span to be added at a later date, or sooner if additional external funding could be found – over to you Central Bedfordshire Council!
For information one of the options, which has been discounted, involved adding lifts to the current footbridge. Unfortunately the limited width of the platforms in this area would rule out this option on safety grounds. Further, this option would have only allowed ‘8 person’ lifts to be installed to each platform, rather than the ’16 person lifts’ permitted with all the other options.
In the conference call I emphasised it is essential the views of people with disabilities or reduced mobility are heard before anything is finalised. Network Rail have agreed to this principle and said they will undertake this before any construction begins.
I do still have a number of concerns. It is not clear yet how level the access will be from the bus interchange to the entrance to the step-free route at the station. I’m also surprised that the plans for the bus interchange aren’t yet firmed up, considering they have been in the pipeline since 2011! I’m led to believe that previously no agreement could be reached locally on the bus interchange proposals – this must not be allowed to cause any delays to the project for the station. As Biggleswade has waited so long for step-free access I’m also impatient that no commitment has been given on a completion date, other than before May 2024, the end of the railway Control Period. However, I do understand the reasons for this and I’m fairly hopeful that the improvements will be completed well before this deadline.
So what will the future look like? A fully accessible station, ‘future proofed’ to cater for increased footfall and additional access points, with seamless and step-free interchange between bus and rail services and links to an enhanced cycle network reducing our reliance on the car. A station fit for the 21st Century, which removes the barriers to people with reduced mobility playing a full part in our society. I’ll do all I can to bring that future to Biggleswade as soon as possible!
We look forward to continuing to work with all parties to bring this to a conclusion. Please be advised that Biggleswade station isn’t the end of our campaign, it just the beginning. We are looking at other inaccessible stations across Bedfordshire and wider access issues across the UK.
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