Feds: Roanoke Amtrak platform must be high

October 7, 2015

Federal regulators to Amtrak: Roanoke boarding platform must be raised

Federal regulators have rejected Amtrak’s plan to board train riders in Roanoke on a low platform that requires climbing stairs or using a lift to enter the rail car.

Instead, in a letter to Amtrak, the Federal Railroad Administration specified the use of “level boarding,” which eliminates the stairs and lift by virtually matching the platform to the height of the car’s floor.Website Insert Out of the Box Thinking copy

Described in a Sept. 30 letter obtained Tuesday by The Roanoke Times, the decision is a victory for advocates for people with disabilities.

Kenneth Shiotani, an attorney at the National Disability Rights Network in Washington, said by email that he was “very pleased.”

The platform configuration ranks as one of the few unresolved details about the planned resumption of passenger train service in Roanoke after 35 years.

Read more: Debate over Amtrak platform centers on accessibility

State officials have pledged nearly $100 million to establish service in 2017 from downtown Roanoke east to Lynchburg. The train already runs northeast from Lynchburg through Charlottesville, Culpeper, Manassas and into the Washington, D.C., area, using the freight tracks of Norfolk Southern Corp., which cross Roanoke as well.

Boarding will occur near the Campbell Court bus station. A temporary and permanent train station are being planned.

Amtrak and the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation on Aug. 31 proposed building a trackside platform 850 feet long and 16 feet wide and 8 inches above the top of the rail. That long-standing approach gives riders a hard surface on which to stand before climbing a staircase inside the train to reach the passenger compartment.

Train personnel operate a mechanical lift to hoist the slow-moving or disabled from the platform to the level of the train. The platform would sit alongside a new siding of track beside the Norfolk Southern main line.

To move forward with its proposed low platform configuration, Amtrak first needed the consent of the Federal Railroad Administration’s Office of Civil Rights, which is designed to guard against discrimination in transportation programs. That office, led by Calvin Gibson, rejected the platform proposal.

“A level boarding platform is required,” Gibson wrote to Amtrak’s deputy chief engineer of construction, Joseph Rago.

Amtrak spokeswoman Kimberly Woods declined to comment Tuesday.

Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation spokeswoman Bethany Wolfe said Tuesday her agency generally supports level boarding, which typically involves a platform 48 inches high.

However, site constraints presented challenges to doing that in Roanoke, she said. Asked for details, she said she could not immediately provide them.

Read the full story in The Roanoke Times by reporter Jeff Sturgeon by clicking here.


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