UV lights keep London Underground escalators safe

Fitting a UV lamp to an escalator handrail at one of London's Underground stations.

With more people now using public transport again, and London being designated a Tier 2 (High Risk) area, Transport for London (TfL) has introduced a further measure to make the transport network cleaner than ever.

Having staged a successful six-week trial earlier this year using ultraviolet (UV) light to clean the handrails on escalators at Heathrow T123 Tube station, TfL is now fitting over 200 such devices to 110 ‘unidirectional’ escalators – almost a quarter of all escalators on the network.

The UV lights, which supplement TfL’s existing extensive anti-viral cleaning regime, are connected to the escalator handrail and use its motion to drive a small dynamo and power a UV bulb that breaks down contamination to sanitise the surface continuously.

110 unidirectional escalators will be fitted with the devices.

Although UV light has been shown to de-activate previous strains of coronavirus, the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, is still too new for similar clinical trials to have concluded in the UK. However, in TfL’s trial at Heathrow, which ran for six weeks from 23 May 2020, the UV-light sanitising devices were shown to improve the cleanliness of escalator handrail surfaces by at least 50 per cent.

Six escalators at King’s Cross St Pancras Tube station have already been fitted with the devices and, in the coming weeks, more will be installed at some of the busiest stations on the network, including Bond Street, Charing Cross, Green Park, London Bridge, Paddington, Tottenham Court Road, Victoria and Waterloo.

Esther Sharples, TfL.

Esther Sharples, director of asset operations at London Underground, said: “We already have a rigorous cleaning regime across all of our stations, but are committed to doing everything we can to ensure that the transport network is as clean as it possibly can be.

“After a successful trial, we are now installing UV light devices to continuously clean more than 100 escalators on the Tube network.

“Customer injuries on escalators account for around half of all injuries on the Tube network and, during the pandemic, we have found that some customers are avoiding holding the handrails. We hope that the installation of these new devices, along with the provision of Dettol hand sanitiser across the network, will rebuild customer confidence.”

Despite regular tests for coronavirus on TfL’s transport network, no evidence of the virus has been found to date. Last month, Imperial College London devised a new testing plan that involves independent monthly air and surface sampling, on both the Tube and buses, for a period of four months. The need for ongoing sampling will be reviewed at the end of the period.

The results from the first round of collaborative sampling, in September, were again all negative for the presence of COVID-19.

To maximise safety, TfL is advising customers to stay three steps apart on escalators at all times and not to pass others.

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