On July 26, 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law to “establish a clear and comprehensive prohibition of discrimination on the basis of disability.”
Amtrak is proud to serve as an important mode of travel for people with disabilities. Working with other station stakeholders, we are committed to ensuring that stations are accessible to all.
The Amtrak Accessible Stations Development Program oversees the process of collaborative planning, conceptual and detailed design, construction and ongoing maintenance to deliver physical station improvements needed to ensure accessible features and pathways. Amtrak uses federal funding to undertake the majority of necessary accessibility improvements as required by the ADA and other pertinent accessibility laws. Therefore, the scope of work, which may include survey, design, planning and construction, is influenced by yearly Congressional appropriations to support national intercity passenger rail service.
Working with Station Stakeholders
At many stations, depending on the ownership structure, various stakeholders—including Amtrak, transit agencies, municipal and county governments, freight and commuter railroads and other entities—may share responsibility for accessibility compliance. Before ADA work may proceed, Amtrak must coordinate and solicit cooperation from these stakeholders in order to define the scope of work.
Approximately 20 different freight and commuter railroads own right-of-way adjacent to stations. Host railroads must be consulted on platform plans and provide watchmen/flagmen protection for work near the tracks. For stations listed on local, state and/or national historic registers, municipal historic preservation bodies and the State Historic Preservation Office also must be consulted regarding ADA work that may impact the historic fabric of a designated depot.
Amtrak will partner with station stakeholders to create a nationwide rail system that is accessible to all passengers, including travelers with disabilities. In many cases, design solutions to achieve ADA compliance will vary from station to station; Amtrak will review plans and provide comments.
Inside and Outside America’s Stations
Inside stations, areas subject to ADA compliance include restrooms, ticket windows, water fountains, passenger information display systems (PIDS) that provide visual and audio announcements, signage, entry doors and egress pathways. Outside, ADA compliance extends to the design of platforms, PIDS, signage, parking stalls and accessible routes to include curb cuts, ramps and doorway widths.
Platform height, length and distance from the tracks will vary according to factors such as the type of cars used on the route and whether the tracks are also shared with freight and commuter carriers. Amtrak’s access guidelines for platform design are based on two sets of considerations:
- Statutory provisions and current regulations declared under the ADA
- Best engineering practices of track and platform design at railroad stations, to the extent consistent with the ADA.
A 2011 level platform rule issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) affected how platforms are to be constructed. It requires full-length, level-boarding platforms (where the platform surface is level with the floor of the train cars) in new and substantially reconstructed commuter and Amtrak stations. Where full-length, level boarding is “infeasible,” such as due to freight train operations on the track adjacent to the platform, the use of site-specific alternative methods is acceptable pending the approval of the U.S. DOT.
In light of these new regulations, Amtrak reassessed existing plans following a detailed analysis of all tracks, platforms and freight traffic. Amtrak is also working to develop a “platform gap” solution to allow for a form of level boarding of trains at stations where full-length level boarding platforms are not feasible. In July 2015, Amtrak installed a prototype retractable setback-shuttle platform at the Ann Arbor, Mich., station. The platform mechanically extends toward the train, bridging the gap created when a level-boarding platform is needed. The prototype will remain in use for a two-year test on performance.
Ultimately, accessibility improvements benefit all Amtrak passengers by eliminating barriers to travel. Improvements such as level boarding make it easier for persons with wheeled mobility devices to board the train, along with the elderly, families with children and passengers with heavy bags. Ongoing work to remove barriers to travel in the parking lot, in and around the depot and on the platform will help ensure that America’s intercity passenger rail system is accessible to everyone.
To help station stakeholders and communities better understand the benefits of full accessibility and station investment, Amtrak holds “Civic Conversations” throughout the year. During these one-day events, Amtrak staff shares its knowledge and expertise with state and civic leaders during discussions on station planning, funding opportunities, historic preservation guidelines and other topics.
For additional information on ADA requirements, please contact Great American Stations directly.
More Information on the Americans with Disabilities Act:
- Code of Federal Regulations Title 49 – Part 37—Transportation Services for Individuals with Disabilities (Subpart C: Transportation Facilities)
- Code of Federal Regulations Title 49 – Part 38—Accessibility Specifications for Transportation Vehicles (Subpart F: Intercity Rail Cars and Systems)
Amtrak Accessible Stations Development Program Updates:
- (October 2013, PDF file)
- PRIIA Section 219 Supplemental Evaluation Letter to Congress (May 11, 2012, PDF file)
- U.S. DOT guidance on level boarding (DOT ADA Final Rule)