Not flush with facilities: the lack of public toilets in railway stations across the ELL boroughs

Toilet at New Cross Station. Pic: Ilenia Reale. Design: Harry Merrell

Just 13 toilets are available for general public use in the 53 railway stations in the Eastlondonlines boroughs, an ELL investigation has revealed.

Transport for London data shows that only 23 toilets are available to the public within the total 53 stations across Croydon, Lewisham, Tower Hamlets, and Hackney on both Underground and Overground lines and Southern Railway and Southeastern Railway. Three of those have no disabled access and a further seven are for disabled use only, accessed by RADAR key.

Of the 25 stations managed by TfL in the ELL boroughs, only one, Norwood Junction, in Croydon, is available for use by everyone.

Additionally, the public toilets are not evenly spread across the ELL boroughs, with Hackney and Tower Hamlets having no publicly available toilets. Hackney has three locked public toilets among its 12 stations that can only be accessed by asking a member of staff during staffing hours; Tower Hamlets has just four such toilets among eight stations. 

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Residents believe that the bureaucratic hurdle of asking scarce staff to open a toilet is often not worth the endeavor. Ruth Boyce from Hackney said: “My pregnant daughter-in-law asked for [the bathroom] at Dalston junction. The guy came out of his office and unlocked one. It wasn’t visible. There was no sign. At first, when we asked whether there was one, he said no. He saw she was pregnant and said, ‘wait’, that’s when he came out with the keys.”

Ladies Toilet sign. Pic: Ilenia Reale

The same is true in Croydon. Enerlrac Revilo, from Croydon, said: “[Toilets] are working, but sometimes you cannot get anyone to open it for you to use. This was at the Selhurst one. The workers keep a key, and you have to walk around, look for them to get the key, and answer a lot of questions as to why you want to use [the toilet]. On this occasion, my little daughter almost wet herself waiting. We had to go in a secluded corner on the roadside out of the station.”

Croydon boasts eight public toilets across its 15 stations – the highest number in the ELL area. However, of the remaining stations, two have no disabled access, and five have no toilets at all. 

Many residents believe that the toilets aren’t kept to decent standards, and that access is not facilitated.

Jo Wittams, also Croydon, said: “Opening at rush hour only is an accessibility issue – many people who are more likely to need to use a loo urgently, such as people with disabilities, older people and carers with children will travel after rush hour!”

Tracie Jane Bett, also from Croydon, highlighted accessibility problems: “It’s a shame there isn’t a little buzzer next to them for people with mobility issues like myself etc. It’s a real struggle trying to find someone with a key if they’re locked”.

Another Croydon resident, Niall McGrath, while acknowledging Norwood Junction’s working toilet, complained about the hygienic standards: “Sadly, England has long suffered from toilet vandalism and the inability to behave in a civilized manner when not observed.”

Blocked toilet at New Cross Station. Pic Ilenia Reale

Mark Evers, Chief Customer Officer at TfL, told ELL: “We know that toilet provision is critical for customers on the London Overground, … for many, it is an enabler for them to travel.”

“Our feasibility study, looking into improving toilets’ accessibility and cleanliness, and increasing provision, is underway and will be completed in the New Year,” said Evers, “We have worked closely with [stakeholders] to better understand people’s needs, how we can improve the facilities already on the network, and identify other locations for more toilets subject to funding.”

A TfL spokesperson said that new stations and upgrade projects must include accessible toilets, prioritizing them when space is limited, and staff are instructed to advise customers of the nearest public and/or wheelchair-accessible toilet where toilets are not available to customers at the station.

ELL also contacted Southern Railway and Southeastern Railway, who manage the remaining stations in the area, for comment regarding the lack of public toilets in some of their stations in the ELL area.

Jenny Saunders, Customer Services Director at Southern said: “We do have limited funds to make station improvements and this is prioritised according to feedback from our customers and the number of people using each station. We have used this fund to install accessible toilets at some of our stations and would look openly at any request from the community.”

Sonia Maulson, Southeastern’s General Manager said:“ Our aim is to build a better, safer and more accessible railway, and while not all of our stations have toilets, we’re constantly looking to improve facilities at stations whenever and wherever we can.”

While not all of their stations have public toilets, both Sourthern and Southeaster Railway confirmed that most of their trains have toilets on board.

Raymond Martin, managing director for the British Toilet Association, said he had been campaigning in favor of “away from home” toilet facilities across the UK for the past 20 years.

Martin told ELL: “There is no protectory legislation for public toilets in stations” and that, ultimately, “it comes down to management”. He said the BTA has “never been asked to work with TfL … at least in the past 10 years.

“The human species need to eat, drink, sleep, and go to the loo. Not using the toilet is dangerous.”

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