Parents with pushchairs and anyone with mobility issues will soon find train travel to and from Kilmarnock a lot easier thanks to a major engineering project at Kilmarnock Station. And Councillor Clare Maitland, Cabinet Spokesperson for Equalities, Inclusion and Poverty on East Ayrshire Council, popped over to see the installation of two new lifts for herself.
The project, being built by Carlisle-based Story Contracting, will open up a whole new world of access to the Victorian station, whose platforms are currently only accessible via a long steep hill or by steps from the newly renovated underpass. Councillor Maitland was very impressed by what she saw: “It’s great to see this lift installation taking place. Since work to regenerate the station started, with the innovative illuminated clock and the re-opening of redundant rooms to form the Killie Browser community space and library, the Storm in a Teacup Café, First Class Gifts, the Glasgow and South Western Railway Association Records Office and the Cycle Station and Active Travel Hub, there’s been a huge upturn in activity in the building. So many people are now taking part in arts and crafts activities, music and all sorts of community led events, but for those with young kids and mobility issues, access has been a big problem. And in a Victorian building, sitting on a steep embankment it’s easy to see why there hasn’t been a lift before. It’s fascinating to meet the Story Team and learn how they’ve met the challenges posed and found a good solution to help make access much easier for everyone.”
Stephen McVey of Story explains: “Working in an existing building is always more challenging because you don’t know what you’re going to find. For the main lift, which is built in a disused store room, and because of the way the underpass was built with a slope and where it is, the door sizes, headroom and width, we couldn’t knock walls down so trying to get machinery in was very difficult. We ended up having to use a microdigger which is the smallest excavator you can get – frankly you’d get more on a shovel and it can only reach so far. To pile the floor we also had to get a mini rig in to drive the piles in – everything we usually do in miniature!
“It’s been a long project. We started in February this year and we expect to have the new lifts fully operational by Christmas. As we’ve gone along we’ve discovered other issues with the building which had to be repaired. We’ve fixed anything we’ve found as we found it. That included upgrading the power supply to the whole station, which we needed to do to make sure there’d be enough power to run the new lifts. We’re also having to lower the ground levels to minimise the slope in the underpass, not easy to do when we also need to keep it open for the public.”
And it takes a huge range of skills to undertake such a project. Stephen says: “We’ve had so many different trades in here: electricians, builders, our engineers and it’s only a small space – we’ve had to dance around each other – co-ordinating people to keep them all working is a big part of the job. On the second platform, we had to lift the shaft housing over a high wall from Hill Street, it’s been a big test of our ingenuity!”
Councillor Maitland concludes: “It’s exciting to see such a rewarding project in the making and to understand just how much is involved in making sure everyone can access the station. It’s a big step forward in the story of the station, which has become a hive of activity for all sorts of community groups and people of all ages and walks of life. Being able to get a lift from ground level will make a huge difference to everyone who finds stairs an issue. It’s great that some clever engineering has allowed this to be built without detracting from the beauty of the original building – it’s such an iconic part of our Victorian townscape and a vital link between the town centre and the college area.
“East Ayrshire Council has invested millions through Conservation Area Regeneration Schemes and Townscape Heritage Initiatives into making the town centre a better connected, more attractive area to shop, work and live and this is another positive breakthrough in making the area more accessible to all. Even while we’ve been here we’ve seen people having to lift pushchairs up the steps and met Tammy, who tutors art in the Killie Browser every week – she is wheelchair bound and gets here easily by train from Glasgow, but can’t get much further because of the stairs. Once these lifts are in operation the station, which already hosts lots of events for all sorts of people, will be totally inclusive for all.”