Yesterday afternoon, representatives from Bedfordshire Rail Access Network (BRAN) met with Network Rail, Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), Richard Fuller MP and Biggleswade Town Council officers to discuss the progress towards step-free access at the station and the long-awaited toilet facilities.
The main points discussed at today’s meeting are set out below. If you have any questions feel free to get in touch with us at: email@example.com
Stairs on the new bridge back in scope
To provide a step-free route to both platforms a new bridge is to be built at the station. The current bridge will remain. This new bridge will include lifts to both platforms. The draft design included stairs from both platforms so that this new bridge could be accessed via the lifts or the stairs. Over the Summer, Network Rail told us that due to budget constraints they were removing the stairs from the scope of the design. We were told this would save them around £500,000.
The BRAN team raised objections to this on a number of grounds including the poor state of the current steps, safety concerns around the number of passengers gathering at the bottom of the steps in peak hours, and the lost opportunity to ‘future proof’ the station for the increased passenger numbers in the years ahead.
We are pleased to say that Network Rail has taken our concerns on board and agreed to retain these stairs within the design of the new bridge.
Timeline slips for step-free access
Inevitably, as a result of the discussions around these stairs, the timeline has slipped. We currently do not have a date for when the lifts will be entered into service – other than it will be before the end of March 2024. This is obviously disappointing, but all parties felt it was worth pushing for the stairs to be retained in the design for the reasons mentioned above. Further reasons for the delay are the need to gain authority for the increase in expenditure, completion of the design plans for the stairs and the need for the amended project to go through the various hoops required by Network Rail governance processes.
Our next meeting is in early February 2023 and we are likely to be given an indication of the revised timeline at that meeting. For information, from when the first shovel is in the ground, it will be around 10 months until the completion of the project.
It was confirmed that the delay to the step-free project at the station would have no impact on the completion date of the bus interchange currently under construction.
Toilets at the station
There will, at long last, be toilets provided at the station. This will comprise a toilet block containing a male toilet, a female toilet, and an accessible toilet. This is on course to be completed at the same time as the bus interchange which is due to be ready by April 2023. The location of the toilet block will be to the right of the taxi office as you look at the station from the road.
We didn’t get any further update in person on this today, but believe there has been no change to the estimated opening date of April 2023. If you have walked past there recently you will have seen that a great deal of work has already taken place. We are aware that the current bus service provision is poor and doesn’t seem to link up with the rail services from the station. We will be pressing for greater liaison between the bus and rail companies to match up services so that bus services become a valid option for commuters.
Staffing levels at the station
At the last couple of meetings, and again today, we asked what the proposed staffing levels would be at the train station once the lifts come into operation. We have been asking this as there is a potential for the lifts and/or the toilets to be closed during the times there are no staff present at the station.
Unfortunately, we were not given any answers on this other than it has yet to be agreed upon and we were not given an indication of when a decision will be made. It is currently the general practice on GTR stations to close the toilets when the station is unstaffed. Currently, Biggleswade station is staffed during the following hours:
|Monday to Friday||06.20 to 14.15 and then 16.00 to 20.00|
|Saturday||08.00 to 14.15|
|Sunday||08.15 to 14.15|
The representatives from BRAN set out in the strongest terms why it is essential for both the lifts and the toilets to be open from the first train until the last train. Disabled people, people with mobility issues and parents with young children should be able to travel independently and spontaneously without having to book assistance. It is disappointing that the concept of a fully staffed railway seems further away than ever. GTR agreed to get back to us as soon as possible on this issue.
Overall, a bit of a mixed bag but we can almost see the light at the end of the tunnel. By the time we next meet up in early February, the bus interchange should nearly be finished and work should have started on the toilet block. The delay to the step-free access is disappointing, but this is a one-time opportunity to future-proof the station. Once again, many thanks to my BRAN colleagues Fiona and Paul for their guidance and for ensuring that the views of disabled people have been heard throughout the process.
Chair Bedfordshire Rail Access Network