Posts Tagged ‘ADA’

June 7th was the ribbon-cutting for new platforms at the Ashland (VA) Amtrak station. Built at a cost of $10 million, the purpose of the project was to improve ADA accessibility and safety:

A quick glance in the image above begs the question of what exactly was done to improve accessibility? There is obviously no level-platform boarding. Passengers with mobility issues will still have difficulties climbing stairs into the train. Wheelchair riders will still have to rely on mobile lifts. This was the best that could be done for $10 million?

Sadly, this project serves as a template for stations all across the country. Amtrak is spending $58 million bringing 16 stations into ADA “compliance” — with another 120 stations in the pipeline at a cost of $126 million.

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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.

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Milwaukee Interspacial

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.





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The US once led the way in providing equal access to those with disabilities. But now the US is refusing to sign the UN Convention on Disabilities. In 2012, the Senate failed to ratify the treaty by 6 votes. Since then, right-wing opponents have succeeded in keeping the treaty from coming up for a vote again.

PBS also interviewed Micahel Farris. Farris is chairman of the “Home School Legal Defense Organization” and one of the leading opponents of the Treaty. He has previously said that the Treaty would give the UN custody over American kids who wear eyeglasses.

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Rock Bottom? It Is A Bottomless Pit

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