Amtrak unveils platform for easier access in Ann Arbor

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Amtrak Thursday unveiled a retractable shuttle platform that provides faster and more efficient boarding for the elderly, children, wheelchair users and others with mobility issues.

The prototype platform is the first of its kind in the country and Amtrak chose Ann Arbor, its busiest Michigan stop, for the 2-year pilot program. It is 4 feet high and extends 41 inches away from the track.

Those at the packed ribbon-cutting ceremony, timed to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, said this is a monumental step toward helping the disabled and elderly better navigate travel.

Richard Bernstein, a Michigan Supreme Court justice who in private practice championed ADA causes, called Amtrak's effort "the train of hope."

"There is no question that we as disabled people still have a long journey in front of us," said Bernstein, who is blind. He was joined by Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor and scores of other officials and activists for the disabled. "But today is a day that we celebrate what's been accomplished. Today is a day that we celebrate the idea that anybody and everybody matters."

Calley said this was an important step "toward creating a world that provides access to more people."

"What's exciting about it is when the first thing happens it provides a template so that for the next thing to happen it's that much easier," Calley said. "It doesn't have to be invented. The partnerships are there. The results are there. I look at this sort of thing as a momentum builder."

Amtrak and RLE International of Madison Heights helped develop the platform concept. It will remain in the Ann Arbor station for two years to test its performance with hopes of expanding it to other cities.

Gary Talbot, program director of ADA for Amtrak who helped design and consult on the project, said this will not only help the disabled but parents with toddlers or baby carriages.

"Now we can get on and off the train very easily," said Talbot, who uses a wheelchair. "And we all stay together. So now people with disabilities aren't doing something different or special. We're just going with everybody else. It's a great day."

Talbot said it took about two years to design and cost nearly $2 million. He said the East Lansing Amtrak stop would be the next location and then 20 other sites across the country.

(313) 222-2620