In 1990, Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Following the rules published to implement the ADA requirements for passenger rail service by the Department of Transportation (DOT) in 2011, Amtrak was charged with making 482 stations fully accessible by 2015. Meanwhile, Amtrak last updated its ADA compliance report in October 2010, reporting that it had achieved compliance at only 10 percent of the 482 stations. The ADA requirements include high-level platforms stretching the length of the train as well as full compliance in station areas and parking lots.
Amtrak’s report (at that time) detailed that in 2011, it planned to have work completed, in process, or in final planning at 107 additional stations. Unfortunately, progress is often hindered at stations due to the concerns of freight railroads with high level platforms liming rail car clearances and municipalities unwilling or unable to fund the improvements. Amtrak currently fulfills its ADA requirements at these stations through the use of ramps, wheelchair lifts, and in some situations mini-high level platforms that process access to a single car.
In April 2014, Amtrak hosted a meeting to review the new “bridge plate” mock-ups. A bridge plate is used on the Northeast corridor for level platform boarding. A red cap attendant will place the bridge plate down allowing wheelchairs users an accessible entrance/exit to the train.
There were three new plate designs—some that were rigid, some with guard rails, and some with a flexible egress lip to the plate. Each plate was reviewed and tested by passengers with disabilities using all different types of mobility devices. Paralyzed Veterans' Advocacy Department staff participated in the field review of the bridge plates at several stations.
Afterwards, a series of questions were asked of the participants to gauge the experience in using the new bridge plates compared to the old bridge plate design. Specifically, the participants with disabilities were asked if there were obvious modifications or improvements to the ramps that would allow the ingress and egress to a train to be more or less accessible, secure, safe or other consideration. Amtrak employees also reviewed the new plates for portability, placement, and storage capability. The process was repeated at Amtrak stations in Philadelphia, PA, Wilmington, DE, Baltimore, MD, and Union Station, Washington, DC. The concept design firm, RLE International based in Madison Heights, Michigan, will gather the analysis and report back to Amtrak.
Learn more about Paralyzed Veterans' advocacy work on behalf of all people with disabilities