Checking up on Amtrak's (lack of) ADA compliance

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A more historical comment: the first federal law requiring any accessibility was the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968. The Architectural Barriers Act is basically the first legislative victory.

From 1968 onward, the handwriting has been on the wall: all buildings should be made accessible eventually. The lawsuits started in the 1970s, starting with forcing WMATA to comply in its new-build subway system. Periodically, the laws are tightened, or enforcement stepped up, in response to bad actors who don't want to comply (often NYC Subway).

The laws will be tightened again. The exemption for unrenovated urban and commuter rail stations will probably be removed at some point. Some agencies will get ahead of that, others will be behind.

So, Amtrak management should have known since Amtrak was founded in 1971 that it would have to make everything wheelchair-accessible eventually.

Our neighbors in Ontario already set a hard deadline of 2025 for all stations in Ontario to be made accessible (in the AODA law). It's particularly difficult for the Toronto subway, but they'll at least get close -- they have 26 stations to go, but only two stations, Islington and Warden, are causing real delays, and they're being very open about that. The GO Transit commuter rail system should meet the deadline, with four stations to go (Eglinton, Georgetown, Long Branch, Mimico). VIA Rail is already compliant, although they're using inclined chairlifts at at least a few stations (Kingston), which is a suboptimal solution.

I do believe that the current head of accessibility at Amtrak is trying, but he can't even get a status report out on time. That's not OK. I'm currently expending my advocacy effort on timetables, but getting that status report is next in the queue.

Thanks for all your good work on Amtrak's accessibility. And on availability of timetables.
 

daybeers

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I won't answer for him, but from my perspective they're time consuming, less safe, and have the potential to break rendering the station non-accessible.
I also personally believe it's not true accessibility. Maybe it fulfills the law requirements, but requiring those with mobility issues to use a lift might be embarrassing and takes time. Lifts often don't perform well in the cold and yes, if it doesn't work what is the passenger to do?

This is why I always much prefer high-level platforms over anything else, especially with platform gap fillers like the Siemens Ventures have. When those with mobility issues can use a service just like someone without them, it creates an immense sense of freedom. Sounds simple because it is simple. Those with mobility issues should be able to navigate the world nearly as much as those without them. Besides, you never know when you'll suddenly need crutches or a wheelchair one day and watch, you'll quickly become a disability advocate 😉
 

joelkfla

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I also personally believe it's not true accessibility. Maybe it fulfills the law requirements, but requiring those with mobility issues to use a lift might be embarrassing and takes time. Lifts often don't perform well in the cold and yes, if it doesn't work what is the passenger to do?

This is why I always much prefer high-level platforms over anything else, especially with platform gap fillers like the Siemens Ventures have. When those with mobility issues can use a service just like someone without them, it creates an immense sense of freedom. Sounds simple because it is simple. Those with mobility issues should be able to navigate the world nearly as much as those without them. Besides, you never know when you'll suddenly need crutches or a wheelchair one day and watch, you'll quickly become a disability advocate 😉
When @neroden said they were using an "inclined lift", I assumed it was something like this:
1642708703189.png

It's a fold-down platform that crawls up the rail of a staircase between floors.

I used one at the NY Transit Museum. They can go around curves and traverse landings. Basically, it replaces an elevator. It is quite slow.

It was operated by museum staff using a wired remote, but there were also controls facing the platform that could be operated by a wheelchair occupant. I think there were just barrier close, up, down, and emergency stop buttons, so it would be simple to operate with no training.
 
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The Siemens Ventures do, though I'm not sure whether Amtrak's variant does, but I think it does if I'm remembering the San Joaquin show-and-tell correctly. Though I guess that only tells us that the *California* order does -- state of California does try to comply with the ADA
I was referring to the Amtrak ones as the topic is Amtrak. Aren't Brightline's cars also Siemens?

From Brightline.com:
While boarding or alighting (aka exiting the train), passengers in wheelchairs can seamlessly roll on or off the train via the “gap filler,” which is a retractable gap filler that extends to meet the platform when the train is in the station.
 

AmtrakBlue

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When @neroden said they were using an "inclined lift", I assumed it was something like this:
View attachment 26886

It's a fold-down platform that crawls up the rail of a staircase between floors.

I used one at the NY Transit Museum. They can go around curves and traverse landings. Basically, it replaces an elevator. It is quite slow.

It was operated by museum staff using a wired remote, but there were also controls facing the platform that could be operated by a wheelchair occupant. I think there were just barrier close, up, down, and emergency stop buttons, so it would be simple to operate with no training.
I think you're right. I went on Google Maps to check out the station and this shows the stair lift.
 

SubwayNut

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I know Westerly about 20 years ago (my timing could be off) was retrofitted with lifts on the staircases into and out of it's pedestrian tunnel between the platforms. Right now the former lifts are being rebuilt into elevators down to the underpass.

Here's a photo on my website from a few years ago of one of the staircases:


Westerly is also on a curve and putting a high-level platform in (along with Mystic) would be tricky
 

neroden

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I know Westerly about 20 years ago (my timing could be off) was retrofitted with lifts on the staircases into and out of it's pedestrian tunnel between the platforms. Right now the former lifts are being rebuilt into elevators down to the underpass.

Westerly is also on a curve and putting a high-level platform in (along with Mystic) would be tricky
I've been looking for an update on those Westerly elevators for months now. Last update on that construction was over a year ago.
 

joelkfla

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From Brightline.com:
While boarding or alighting (aka exiting the train), passengers in wheelchairs can seamlessly roll on or off the train via the “gap filler,” which is a retractable gap filler that extends to meet the platform when the train is in the station.
Those are just gap fillers, not lifts. They slide out to reduce the gap between the car and the high platform.

But the cars do offer built-in wheelchair lifts according to this page from a Czech-base railroading magazine (hope there weren't any viruses hiding in there), which says the text in red came directly from Siemens:

"Up to four 864 mm wide sliding-plug entrance doors with retractable steps offer improved ease of entry and exit for high- and low-level platform access. Automatic gap fillers can be installed for dedicated high-level boarding. Onboard wheelchair lifts at the doors support ADA passenger entry and exit at low-level platforms. Interior sliding plug doors separate the entrance vestibules from the passenger seating area and reduce noise levels. Continuous data monitoring of the car performance ensures early detection of faults, for proactive maintenance."​
The article is talking about the new cars for CA & IL, but it's not clear to me whether the data from Siemens is about those cars specifically or Venture cars in general.

Wikipedia says the CA cars will have 2 lifts per trainset, as verified here:

1642724407734.png
 
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neroden

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The "showpiece" one they showed off for the San Joaquins in CA, IIRC, had two vestibules in each car -- one end has the gap fillers for high platforms, the other has the lifts for low platforms.

I guess, reading the picture, the final California arrangement is an A-B arrangement of paired cars, where each car has two vestibules, but one car has the gap fillers and stairs at the other vestibule, while the other car has the wheelchair lifts and stairs at the other vestibule?

Not sure what the IDOT arrangement is. Anyway, it looks like when you order a Siemens Venture car, for each car, you can have either 1 or 2 vestibules (2 or 4 doors), and for each door, you have the choice of just stairs, gap filler for level boarding, or wheelchair lift. Different agencies may pick different combinations to achieve ADA compliance.
 
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So the question is - what did Amtrak choose because they are required to meet ADA at every station and that lift option sounds like it would meet that requirement. Brightline also says that wheelchairs can be moved from car to car because of inter-car door width. Will Amtrak cars allow that? It sounds like that could meet ADA without having the option on every car.
 

neroden

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So the question is - what did Amtrak choose because they are required to meet ADA at every station and that lift option sounds like it would meet that requirement. Brightline also says that wheelchairs can be moved from car to car because of inter-car door width. Will Amtrak cars allow that?
Yes, I'm pretty sure they do. The inter-car door width is enough of a part of the structural car design that they aren't going to make alternative, narrower, less compliant doors.

It sounds like that could meet ADA without having the option on every car.
 

joelkfla

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So the question is - what did Amtrak choose because they are required to meet ADA at every station and that lift option sounds like it would meet that requirement. Brightline also says that wheelchairs can be moved from car to car because of inter-car door width. Will Amtrak cars allow that? It sounds like that could meet ADA without having the option on every car.
The data attributed to Siemens in the article from the Czech magazine that I quoted above also said that movement between cars was ADA compliant, so I would say that's standard on Venture cars.
 

neroden

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Worth noting regarding the Siemens order having car-borne lifts:

Station-based lifts generally don't have redundancy (one per platform), which is bad. At the moment, when they occasionally have problems, one outage exposes Amtrak to liability for that incident.

However, if Amtrak ordered cars without car-borne lifts, and then a platform-based lift malfunctioned once, Amtrak would be liable not just for that incident, but for *ordering the cars without lifts*. The way the regulations are written says that new cars must have car-borne lifts unless all of the stations have level boarding, bridgeplates, or station-based lifts; so one station-based lift failure means a new car without lifts isn't compliant.

For car-borne lifts there are generally at least two on each side of each train, which provides some redundancy; if the one at one door breaks, the one at another door will probably still work.

So I expect all future orders will have car-borne lifts, because of the importance of redundancy.
 

joelkfla

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For car-borne lifts there are generally at least two on each side of each train, which provides some redundancy; if the one at one door breaks, the one at another door will probably still work.

So I expect all future orders will have car-borne lifts, because of the importance of redundancy.
The slide I included in the previous post indicates the CA order has one lift-equipped coach per trainset, and that the car has 4 doors. So is there a lift at each of the 4 doors, making 2 per side? I also wonder whether the lifts incorporate a gap filler for level boarding, or are wheelchairs routed to the one car with gap fillers at those stations?
 
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John Santos

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How much do the portable station lifts cost? Wouldn't it make sense to have more than one available for each platform, or at least have a spare at each station that could be swapped in while a broken lift is repaired? Probably 5 for stations with 2 low-level platforms (2 on each platform, plus a spare.) The chances of not having a working lift would be essentially zero.
The purchase contract for the lifts should include repairs, maintenance and spare parts and documentation for the expected lifetime of the lifts. Since purchasing the lifts is probably a capital expense and the maintenance is an operational expense, I bet short-sighted management and bid-minimizing contractors often gloss over not including the maintenance, but then they break and turn out to be unfixable due to lack of parts. :(

Someone above objected to gap fillers. What's the issue? Would station-based bridge plates somehow be better? At many high-level platforms, minimizing the gaps is physically impossible because of a curve or sharing the track with wider equipment. Train-mounted, extensible gap fillers solve this problem automatically.
 

John Santos

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The slide I included in the previous post indicates there is one lift-equipped coach per trainset, and that the car has 4 doors. So is there a lift at each of the 4 doors, making 2 per side? I also wonder whether the lifts incorporate a gap filler for hi-level platforms.
I got the impression from other comments that their is a choice between automatic stairs (that come down to low-level platform height when the door is opened) like a traditional trap but better because the bottom step is closer to the ground, a deployable wheelchair lift, or an automatic gap-filler on each door. I got the impression they couldn't be combined at a single door, but the 4 doors on a car could all be different.
If all stations are high level, then the gap-fillers should be sufficient to make all doors accessible, but there are many stations with low-level platforms and there will be for many years to come.
 

neroden

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How much do the portable station lifts cost?

Soooo, the issue at the majority of Amtrak stations is that the lifts need a secure "shed" to be locked in when not in use (to avoid theft and vandalism). They've gone to the trouble of building one "lift shed" on each platform. They're kind of large. They've actually had trouble finding places to put them at some stations; squeezing in another may not be easy.

The station-based lifts are also kind of large. Moving from one platform to another is a big, slow process especially if you can't just roll them across a grade crossing and have to go up or down.

Wouldn't it make sense to have more than one available for each platform, or at least have a spare at each station that could be swapped in while a broken lift is repaired? Probably 5 for stations with 2 low-level platforms (2 on each platform, plus a spare.) The chances of not having a working lift would be essentially zero.

Yes. The reasons why this hasn't happened are listed above.

It turns out to be easier to maintain train-borne lifts, since it's done along with the rest of the train's maintenance.

And, in fact, train-based lifts are cheaper -- for a twice daily daytime train, you might need lifts on two trainsets, but you would need lifts on a dozen stations.

By the time the number of trainsets exceeds the number of stations, you're running high-frequency service and should be building high platforms everywhere.

Amtrak went with station-based lifts for a reason which made sense at the time: because they figured they were going to be running Superliners and Amfleets for another two decades (correct) and there's no good way to retrofit lifts to the Superliners and Amfleets (correct). But it makes sense to shift to train-based lifts as new equipment is purchased.
 

neroden

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The slide I included in the previous post indicates the CA order has one lift-equipped coach per trainset, and that the car has 4 doors. So is there a lift at each of the 4 doors, making 2 per side? I also wonder whether the lifts incorporate a gap filler for level boarding, or are wheelchairs routed to the one car with gap fillers at those stations?
I don't know. I'd guess you're right, a lift at each of the 4 doors? They were making an effort to line things up so that every lift door was adjacent to a stair door (in this case the stair door would be in the next car), so that ambulatory people wouldn't be in line behind the people using the lift.

I don't know if the lifts incorporate a gap filler. My guess is not.

The gap fillers on the CA trains are curious given that there are no high-level platforms in service on any of the Amtrak California lines. I wonder what they're planning? This appears to be associated with future plans...
 
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CCC1007

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I don't know. I'd guess you're right, a lift at each of the 4 doors? They were making an effort to line things up so that every lift door was adjacent to a stair door (in this case the stair door would be in the next car), so that ambulatory people wouldn't be in line behind the people using the lift.

I don't know if the lifts incorporate a gap filler. My guess is not.

The gap fillers on the CA trains are curious given that there are no high-level platforms in service on any of the Amtrak California lines. I wonder what they're planning? This appears to be associated with future plans...
The gap fillers may be for use on the CAHSR trackage when it opens to traffic before being fully connected to the major cities...
 

flitcraft

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Those with mobility issues should be able to navigate the world nearly as much as those without them. Besides, you never know when you'll suddenly need crutches or a wheelchair one day and watch, you'll quickly become a disability advocate 😉
Amen, my friend. A few years back I broke an ankle badly, and ended up using a wheelchair for several months. I discovered that parts of the campus of my university--ostensibly fully accessible--were not accessible at all by someone in a wheelchair. And they didn't have an online map of the campus showing where accessible doors to each of the buildings were. I kept pestering the administration till they finally posted the map and changed several walkways to be more accessible. But I never would have noticed except for my personal experience of trying to navigate my way by wheelchair.
 
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