Special Boarding Platform Testing in Ann Arbor

A first-of-its-kind boarding platform designed to serve rail passengers with disabilities is undergoing a trial in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The platform is designed to help passengers more easily board trains at stations that have low-level platforms that are well below the floor level of most single-level passenger cars.

Otherwise, passengers must be carried aboard up the stairs or raised to floor level by a lift device.

The new platform is located at the west end of the existing low-level platform at the Ann Arbor Amtrak station.

It has a ramp that leads to a concrete platform that stands 38 inches above the top of the rails. That is the same height as the floor of the Amfleet and Horizon cars commonly used on Wolverine Service trains that serve Ann Arbor.

A wall facing the tracks sits 9 feet back from the center line of the track, thus allowing ample clearance space for passing freight trains.

A 20-foot motorized concrete platform, or shuttle, deploys to the 5-foot, 7-inch distance from the center line to facilitate level boarding at two adjacent doors.

A conductor or station agent can use a cell phone app to activate the shuttle, which takes just over 10 seconds to move into position.

There remains a gap of several inches between the movable section and a passenger car, so a bridge plate is necessary for wheelchair travelers. That plate has guardrails and is made of lightweight carbon fiber. It is 18 inches longer and 30 pounds lighter than the 87-pound aluminum ramps used at most Amtrak stations.

Superliner equipment has a lower boarding level floor and the fiber ramp can be adapted those cars.

Amtrak’s Superliners as well as the bi-level Midwest and California fleet now being built by Nippon Sharyo, have doors that are slightly over 15 inches above top-of-rail.

The Ann Arbor special platform cost about $1.9 million with the funds coming from the Accessible Boarding Technologies portion of the $50 million designated by Congress in the current Amtrak appropriation to make stations accessible to passengers with disabilities.

A similar platform is being planned for the Amtrak station in East Lansing, Michigan, on the Blue Water line. Another may be built at an undisclosed location on the Wolverine Service line.

Although designed to help those with disabilities, the special platform is available for use by any passengers, including seniors, young families with strollers and those traveling with big rolling suitcases.

Amtrak collaborated with a Michigan engineering firm, RLE International, to design the prototype platform.

It was unveiled at a ceremony on July 23, the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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