USDOT Works Around Freight Railroads on New Passenger Rail Level-Entry Boarding Requirements

As discussed in a previous blog post, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) recently set new level-entry boarding requirements for disabled passengers on intercity and commuter railroads through amended regulations implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act (76 Fed. Reg. 57924).

In the proposed rule, USDOT stated its intent to require passenger railroads to provide level-entry boarding at all new or altered station platforms, unless the passenger railroad could show that level boarding was infeasible.  In the final rule, USDOT retained the level-boarding mandate, but will permit alternatives at platforms adjacent to track used by freight railroads if the passenger railroad can demonstrate reliability, safety and access to all cars available to non-disabled passengers.

Due to concerns about equipment clearance issues, freight railroads generally refuse to permit passenger railroads to construct station platforms more than 8 inches above top-of-rail.  USDOT’s ADA regulations give it authority over owners or persons in control of a station (e.g., passenger railroads), but not owners or persons in control of track that passes through the station (e.g., freight railroads). Due to this limitation, USDOT concluded that it does not currently have legal tools to overcome this refusal (76 Fed. Reg. at 57927).

This is an unusually candid assessment on the part of USDOT, especially in the context of the ADA.  What remains unclear is what passenger railroads will need to demonstrate in order to meet this performance based standard for an alternative to level boarding and what will happen if the standard cannot be met at a particular location.

Stay tuned.

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