UV light devices on escalators is latest step in TfL’s anti-viral cleaning regime

As Londoners adapt to life in Tier 2 of the Government’s COVID alert levels, Transport for London (TfL) has introduced a further measure to make the transport network cleaner than ever. 

Main points:

  • More than 200 UV light sanitising devices are being installed on 110 escalators on the London Underground network
  • It follows a successful trial which found that they improve sanitisation levels on escalator handrails by at least 50 per cent
  • Builds on TfL’s existing coronavirus testing programme and extensive anti-viral cleaning regime

Following a successful six-week trial earlier this year using ultraviolet (UV) light to clean the handrails on escalators at Heathrow T123 Tube station, more than 200 sanitising devices are being installed on 110 escalators in the coming weeks, meaning almost a quarter of all escalators on the network will be fitted with the devices.

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

Devices have already been fitted on six escalators at King’s Cross St Pancras Tube station and in the coming weeks 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.

While UV light has been proven to de-activate previous strains of coronavirus, Covid-19 is still too new for similar clinical trials to have concluded in the UK. However, the UV-light sanitising devices were shown in TfL’s trial to improve the cleanliness of escalator handrail surfaces by at least 50 per cent.

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.”

TfL has regularly tested for coronavirus on the transport network with no evidence of the virus found to date and, last month, a new testing plan with Imperial College London started.

This work 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 have already been received and were, again, all negative for the presence of COVID-19.

TfL’s extensive anti-viral cleaning regime across the transport network includes using hospital-grade cleaning substances that kill viruses and bacteria on contact and provide ongoing disinfection. 

More than 1,000 hand sanitiser points have been installed across the network for everyone to use and firm action is being taken against the minority of customers who refuse to wear a face covering without an exemption.

With the capital currently in Tier 2 of the Government’s COVID alert levels, TfL has set out some simple tips to help everyone stay safe as they travel.

These include walking or cycling where possible and, if you need to travel, to plan ahead for quiet times and routes. Everyone must continue to take the simple steps of good hand hygiene, wearing a face covering and social distancing wherever possible. TfL is also advising customers to stay three steps apart on escalators and not pass others at all times.

TfL is continuing to run a full planned service, which, along with widespread social distancing signage, makes social distancing easier on the network.

A UV steriliser system is installed on an escalator handrail at King’s Cross St Pancras station. The self sufficient system eliminates 99.9% of bacteria on the surface of the handrail and is powered using a dynamo motor.

Background and technical

  • A six-week trial of a UV light sanitising device on an in-service escalator at Heathrow T123 Underground station started on 23 May 2020.
  • During this trial, an independent company was commissioned to undertake weekly swab tests of the handrails on both the trial escalator and a control escalator that did not have a device fitted.
  • The results from the trial showed that the UV light sanitising device improved the cleanliness of an already highly sanitised escalator handrail surface by at least 50 per cent.
  • In mid-October, TfL started installing UV light sanitising units on ‘uni-directional’ escalators across the Tube network starting at King’s Cross St Pancras Underground station. Once the installation programme is completed, 24 per cent of escalators on the Tube network will have a sanitising device fitted. TfL is conducting further research and engagement with the supply chain before considering whether further devices could be installed on more escalators on the Tube network.
  • While some UV sanitising solutions require external power sources, the units being installed on the Underground are fitted with a small dynamo to generate power from the moving handrail. This powers a UV bulb, which sanitises as the handrail belt passes through the unit, killing micro-organisms that are present.
  • Customer injuries on escalators are the most common type of injury on the Tube network accounting for around 50 per cent of all customer injuries. Holding the handrail is a significant safety control to reduce the number and severity of escalator accidents. Posters, messaging, signage and campaigns are constantly used in stations to influence customers to use the handrail.

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