The city of Roanoke, Virginia is restoring rail service, after a 35-year hiatus. This requires building a train station, which will cost $100 million. Despite ADA and FRA regulations on level-platform boarding, this 21st-century train station will not have level-platform boarding:
When passenger train service comes to Roanoke in 2017, riders will board from an old-fashioned, low platform that requires climbing stairs or using a lift to enter the car, according to tentative plans subject to federal review.
Planners setting up Roanoke’s train service say a standard low platform will meet Roanoke’s site-specific needs and comply fully with the Americans with Disabilities Act because of the availability of mobile lifts. But planners didn’t publicize the proposal when they approved it 14 months ago, and now that members of the disability community are in the loop, they’re upset. Advocates for the disabled say such an approach will shortchange today’s diverse ridership and there is a better option: a raised platform.
If, instead, Roanoke ends up with a low platform as tentatively planned, its advance in modern transit would be coupled with a throwback to early passenger railroading. Roanoke’s old passenger train station, now a museum built in 1905, had a low platform that’s only a step up from ground-level boarding. “It would be a wasted opportunity to build a low-level platform at a location like that,” said Kenneth Shiotani, an attorney at the National Disability Rights Network, speaking of Roanoke.
Low-platform are a throwback to the steam era. In fact, one of the reasons VA Dept. of Rail designed the station with low-platforms was to accommodate an oversized steam train from a nearby transportation museum. The FRA really needs to start enforcing its level-platform rules, and not prioritize historic museum trains over modern transport.