The Second "Great Stink"?

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We have commented previously on the vexed question of toilet facilities being included in the new station complex at Farringdon. The Islington Gazette carries a story of continued intransigence by Crossrail whilst Thameslink appears to propose a minimalist revamping approach as their contribution. Conspicuous by their absence, there is no mention of any response from TfL or LUL:

A project to turn Farringdon station into one of London’s busiest transport hubs will not include any new facilities to spend a penny [as] Crossrail has announced that the new station will not provide any extra toilets, and its trains will not have toilets.

[…]

As well as the Crossrail development, the existing Farringdon station is also being upgraded to take hundreds of extra Thameslink passengers each day. But Thameslink is also not putting in new toilets – and says passengers will have to use the loos on its trains and the two existing toilets at the current Farringdon station.

Campaigners also claim that the existing station toilets have a tendency to flood and are often closed. Jo deBank, of passenger watchdog Travelwatch, said having no new toilets was “simply not good enough” and the station needs to be “brought into the 21st century”.

Now that the polling stations have closed a calmer and more bipartisan atmosphere will hopefully prevail, with all parties sitting down to resolve this question – whilst the station remains a malleable CAD concept and before hard-to-change physical construction has yet to begin.

It is, however, important to put this problem in context. This is not just a question about Farringdon and Islington. The influx and, I suppose, outflux of people from Crossrail will affect every station on the route.

(Editor’s wealth warning: do not play Scrabble with Mwmbwls – especially for money – he makes up words and then bluffs.)

Where is it written that Farringdon is going to be the sole mega-party centre of London? In practice all Crossrail stations will attract people to central London for a night out. All of the central London boroughs on the line from Newham to Hammersmith, if not from Reading to Redbridge, need to check the plans deposited with them to ensure that public hygiene and health needs are met. I have to confess that I am not omnipotent and so I am not quite sure how cross-authority boundary issues are resolved in London. There has to be a case for the respective borough chief executives to get together with the Mayor over a cup of tea and a digestive (N.B. in these times of austerity only the cost of plain digestives will be reimbursable).

They need to address the three questions at the root of this problem: should major new stations in London all have public toilets? Is it unacceptable that Crossrail trains, with a probable in-service life in excess of forty years, do not have toilets built in “ab initio”? If the answer to the first two questions is “yes” then a third question needs to be asked: who should pay for these facilities, and who should make a subsidiary contribution?

Now is the opportune moment. It isn’t just a question of the stations. As we pointed out in our recent article on servicing at Streatham, having toilets on trains will have implications for the Crossrail depots at Shenfield and Old Oak Common, which would need the capacity to empty on board retention tanks. This needs to be included in the initial build process to avoid expensive reworking later. New trains don’t just appear: designs have to be finalised, a supply chain assembled, followed by construction and lengthy testing.

We have commented in the past about the work done by Passenger Focus on behalf of the operators of the new Thameslink stock and the TransPennine Desiros in establishing the public’s requirements for new rolling stock. Let’s hope that the passenger watchdog, London Travelwatch, has been asked to sharpen its pencils and carry out a similar exercise on the Crossrail stock – including whether or not toilets should be fitted to the trains. If they haven’t could somebody please pose the question, “Why not?”

Of course, it all comes down to cost – in particular, on whose balance sheet the capital cost will fall and on whose profit and loss account the subsequent running costs will accrue. At this point it is all too easy for this to degenerate into a lose-lose game of pass the ticking parcel as the Train Operating Company tries to shuffle off the responsibility to the infrastructure provider, who tries to shuffle it off to local authorities, who shuffle it off to the Mayor, who shuffles it off to the DfT, who shuffle it off to the long grass. If they do they sadly misread the public mood.

Read this carefully; I will write this only once. London’s rail users have neither the time, the money nor the patience to wait for, as “The Economist” says, the distinctive thud of something hitting the something on this topic. Having wiped the beads of sweat from their foreheads and enjoyed their obligatory sigh of relief will the duly and newly elected representatives please step forward and sort this out in a timely and cost effective manner?

Written by Mwmbwls