A Comprehensive Accessibility Guide to Britain's Rail Stations
Stations Made Easy, a comprehensive, interactive online guide to every one of the UK's rail stations, minimizes or eliminates a major aggravation of British train travel - all those flights of stairs.
The guide was published after a year long project costing £1.2 million and involving more than 700,000 photographs. Britain's 2,500 railway stations were photographed in detail and hundreds of thousands of routes through them were planned. I didn't check all of them but I'm told that the system has, for example, found 44,000 different routes around London Bridge Station.
Leveling the Field
The online guide enables travelers to plan their way around rail stations, avoiding obstacles like stairs, steep ramps and narrow ticket barriers. It is also a good way to find station facilities - seating, luggage carts, escalators, lifts (elevators), ticket offices, ticket machines, baby changing facilities, shops and more.
Originally planned to improve accessibility for passengers with disabilities and mobility problems, Stations Made Easy is packed with information that's also invaluable for anyone who has ever tried to juggle heavy luggage, laptops and shopping, while steering young children and pets up and down the steps of Britain's mostly 19th century train stations. It's linked to the National Rail Enquiries website, making that already useful online tool even more comprehensive.
How to Use Stations Made Easy on National Rail Enquiries
To use Stations Made Easy, find your way to National Rail Enquiries. This useful website, is always my first stop when planning a train journey. With it you can search for train schedules, routes, the best fares and station information in an easy to navigate website.
Here's what to do next:
- From the tabs at the top of the page, pick "Stations & on trains".
- Enter the name of your chosen station in the search box located beside the "Station Facilities" headline and hit search. If there is more than one station with a similar name, you may get a further drop down list and search button. Or you may go directly to the Station Facilities page for your chosen station.
- On the right side of the Station page, near the top, you'll see a box with an arrow that says "Stations made easy". Click on it and you'll arrive at a page specific for the station you want to use.
- The Stations Made Easy Overview page for your chosen station has general information as well as links to an interactive, graphic Station Plan ( like the plan for St Pancras International Station shown on the previous page) and a list of best accessible routes. If you click on the station plan, it will enlarge and the various icons and symbols will become live and interactive. Clicking on each symbol of the station plan produces either a box of further information or a photograph showing the elevator, ramp or other accessibility feature being described.
- If the station has several floors, there is a separate, interactive plan for each floor.
Information contained in the station overview as well as by clicking on the Accessibility and Mobility tab provides a handy summary of key accessibility information, including:
- Availability of disabled parking spots
- Accessible entrances
- Hours when staff is available to assist
- Ticket office accessibility features
- Restroom and baby changing facilities
- Useful phone numbers
This page information is especially handy if your trip involves smaller stations where lifts (elevators) may not be available and staff may not be on duty all the time.
Plan an Accessible Route Then Select and See It
The next page in the Stations Made Easy accessibility tool for British train stations provides you with a selection of choices:
- From the drop down menus in the search boxes, choose where, in or around the station you want to leave from and where you want to go to. These are programmed to provide landmarks - entrances, parking areas, ticket offices, train platforms - that are specific to the station you have chosen.
- From the buttons in the menu on the left side of the page, choose which methods of moving around the station - steps, escalators, lifts, ramps - you can or cannot handle. Everyone is different and some people with disabilities or mobility problems may be able to handle some facilities and not others.
This is where the tool becomes rather clever. Depending on the station you choose, this list may be longer or shorter than the one shown here, since it reflects the real physical features of that specific station. It thus allows you to plan a route around the station that is geared to your personal requirements.
- Click on the "Main accessible routes" button, indicated by the yellow arrow on the left the picture above, for details on the best routes for you.