Mind the gap: Lessons from the world’s subway systems for the UK’s hydrogen future

Many of the world’s first subway systems were categorised by a series of independent ventures that operated in competition with each other. For 40 years the London Underground was operated by two separate companies before they joined together under one brand and one vision. Meanwhile in New York, the city’s elevated and subway lines operated in competition to one another for around 70 years before a single entity took over and the difficult process of integration began. Tokyo has always had two separate subway systems – one operated privately, and another by the government.

This somewhat disjointed evolution to city subway systems has, in many places, led to highly complex networks featuring different station and line designs, and rolling stock which creates ongoing challenges for renovation, extension and integration. To this day, division A and B of the New York metro cannot be integrated due to the difference in tunnel design and consequently the different size rolling stock that can be used.

The famous phrase “mind the gap”, which can be heard in subways and railway stations everywhere from Helsinki to Hong Kong, exists because of varying design choices. A mixture of platform heights, station designs and rolling stock has led to gaps several inches across and several inches high on numerous platforms around the world. It’s an unfortunate design relic that will continue to create access challenges for the less mobile well into the future.

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