Milwaukee is finally getting around to rebuilding its decrepit train station. Because it is new construction, the station will have to provide level-platform boarding to comply with ADA. And here is the kludge for meeting the requirement:
The present plan for the boarding platform is definitely not the one the department started off with, Boardman said, but it does achieve level boarding — meaning the train doors open, and passengers can exit without going down any steps.
“In the end, we were able to keep large portions of the design the same, but we did end up with platforms with multiple heights,” Boardman said. “It’s not what we envisioned when we started.”
The challenge was that the trains had different boarding heights. Equipment for Amtrak’s Hiawatha service, which runs between Milwaukee and Chicago, is different from its Empire Builder Service, which run through Milwaukee to the Twin Cities. The new platform design accommodates both by having a platform height in the middle that’s different from the ends.
How did this situation come about? It wasn’t just an historical accident, but a combination of bad planning and bad politics.
In 2009, Wisconsin received an $810 million “high-speed” rail grant to upgrade the Hiawatha line to 110 mph. The money was to pay for new trains and a revamped Milwaukee station. With new trains and a new station, what better opportunity to examine level-platform boarding? However, planners ignored the issue because Federal regulations (at that time) did not require it.
Then Scott Walker won election to Governor, and refused the HSR grant money. With the grant money gone, Wisconsin taxpayers were on the hook to pay for the station re-build.
Meanwhile, the FRA adopted level-platform boarding rules. Wisconsin appealed to the FRA for a special waiver, arguing that work on the station pre-dated the rule change — but the FRA was obviously in no mood to do them any favors. And so we end up with a sub-optimal design that has to accommodate antiquated rolling stock.