DOT announces new train accessibility rules

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The U.S. Department of Transportation announced updates to its Americans with Disabilities Act regulations for station platforms nationwide, in an effort to increase transportation accessibility for people with disabilities.

This is the universal access symbol in a square with rounded corners, a red background and a white symbol

Rail access improved

The regulations require all new transportation platforms for  intercity, commuter and high-speed passenger travel to ensure they have level-entry boarding so people with disabilities can easily get on any car of a train, according to a DOT news release. Existing stations must be altered to conform to the new rules.

Platforms that share tracks with freight rail are exempt, though they will be required to provide alternative options for people with disabilities, such as car-borne lifts, station-based lifts, or mini-high platforms.

“The benefit of these regulations is that it tailors the general requirements of the ADA to fit the needs of rail passengers,” said DisAbility Rights Washington attorney Zach Burr. “Stations now have clear guidance on how to ensure accessibility.  These regulations should also provide an improved transportation experience for rail users in that newly built or remodeled stations should be more uniform, eliminating the need for people with mobility impairments to overcome new barriers at every station they visit.”

While expressing encouragement from the changes, Curt Decker, executive director of the National Disability Rights Network, said he is concerned that the freight rail exemption is a significant loophole that will force many people with disabilities to continue to rely on inconvenient means of transportation.

“We have pressed both the Department of Transportation and Amtrak to address this issue for a long time,” Decker said in a news release.  “While this new rule shows progress is being made, there is still much left to do to ensure people with disabilities have full and equal access to our nation’s railways.”

DRW is part of the federally funded protection and advocacy system and a member of the National Disability Rights Network.