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U.S. Access Board: Rail Vehicles Access Advisory Committee
Subcommittee on Boarding and Alighting Meeting #8
January 29, 2015
1:00 – 3:00 Eastern

1.0 Introductions

2.0 Approval of the Agenda

3.0 Develop rationale and benefits/costs for guidelines that are changing, and consider submitted concerns

4.0 Identify potential research needs.

5.0 Discuss recommendations to the DOT.

6.0 Identify subcommittee members to write the report to the full committee.

Next meeting – February 26-27, 2015 at the Access Board office in Washington, DC

 


Issues associated with requiring bridge plate car ramps to be automatically deployed and connected to the cars

Preliminary DRAFT for discussion purposes only. This is not an official position paper.


Currently most wheel chair ramps used in commuter applications are portable and in the case of LIRR and MNR they are manually deployed when necessary by the train crew. LIRR and MNR store ramps on the equipment near the wheelchair seating areas, as well as on certain station platforms to ensure that the ramps are readily available when needed. This manual effort allows the train crew to ensure the safety of boarding and alighting of passengers with wheelchairs and mobility devices to and from the train, while not interfering with rapid passenger flow on most cars at most stations.

If automated ramps are applied to the car they will reduce the safety of boarding and alighting for passengers with wheelchairs and more so for walking passengers on all cars at all stations. In addition, the complicated deployment system and associated safety interlocks required for their use will increase station dwell times, significantly increase procurement and maintenance costs, and car weight and reduce the overall reliability of the transportation system, while providing minimal benefits for passengers with mobility aide devices such as wheelchairs.

There are safety concerns associated with the use of automatically deploying bridge plates which are exacerbated by the requirement that all accessible doors of all cars use the device at every single station stop, even when there may not be a need for the devices at any stations on a particular train and even when only one station may need to have a bridge plate. Currently, the manually deployed bridge plates are used only on the car that they are needed and only at the stations that they are needed. The safest boarding and alighting for everyone is to have level boarding with minimum gaps, which for most authorities, can be achieved only at certain stations. Some of the safety concerns related to the use of automated car ramps are as follows:

1.The deployment of the bridge plate will pose a safety hazard to passengers on the car as well as passengers on the platform. In order for the ramp to fold out onto the platform it will likely be stored inside the car and likely inside the vestibule in a locker and deploy to the outside of the train onto the platform when the doors open.

A. Passengers in area for deployment on the car will need to be kept clear so that no one is injured during the deployment. Currently many rush hour trains are filled to capacity and people are standing in the vestibule. Keeping the vestibule clear of people is nearly impossible as passengers need to traverse the area during boarding and alighting. Additional audible and visual alarms will be necessary to warn passengers to move from the vestibule areas. However when the cars are filled to capacity, which is likely during peak periods , it will be impossible for them to clear out of vestibule areas, and thus it will not be possible to safely open the doors and deploy the bridge plates. Therefore under these conditions opening the door will create a safety concern at every accessible door with crowded vestibules on the train. Even when the train is not overly crowed, passengers generally congregate at the vestibules before their stop, so that they are ready to alight when the train comes to a stop.

If a fold out bridge plate is used, the doors will need to open before the bridge plate can fold out onto the platform. If will be difficult to prevent walking passengers from walking through the door if it is open, consequently it will be difficult to tie the bridge plate actuation to the door operation.

B. Passengers on the platform waiting for a train must clear the area when a train arrives so that they do not get hit by the deploying bridge plates. Keeping the platform area clear of passengers will be very difficult. Typically passengers stand near the door openings when the train arrives so that they can get on and get a seat. Often the passengers are so close to the door that they obstruct passengers getting off the train. In addition, identifying the areas of bridge plate deployment on the platforms will be difficult because the car doors do not always align with the same exact location on the platform. This misalignment can be due to differences in door spacing on different equipment and/or accuracy of train berthing at platforms. The deploying bridge plates will take up significant space on the platform depending on the length of the bridge plate which can be 12 inches to 18 inches for vertical gap between 3 inches and 6 inches and significantly longer for larger vertical gaps, and larger horizontal gaps. The bridge plate for all accessible doors on all cars will need to be designed to accommodate the largest vertical gap present on the system as well as the largest horizontal gap on the system, which could be quite large due to platforms on curves. Additionally for locations where the car threshold is lower than the platform an additional limited rotation hinge would need to be added to the bridge plate to allow it to conform to the height difference. A straight rigid plate would not work in these instances.

C. Since only newer cars would be equipped with the new devices not all trains will need to clear the vestibules and platform areas at station stop as outlined above. This would require that the customers know the difference between new cars and older cars so they are prepared for the device to deploy. There will be a learning curve for regular commuters, but it will always be difficult to teach transient customers.

A manually deployed bridge plate operation allows the train crew to clear the area on the platform and in the car vestibule before deployment of the bridge plate. Since the bridge plate operation is not tied to the doors, train crew personnel can open the doors and then wait for crowds to disperse before deploying the bridge plate. This deployment process mitigates the hazards to passengers with and without mobility devices associated with automatic deployment outlined above.

2.Once folded out the bridge plate will be a tripping hazard to persons on the station platform walking on to or off the train. The bridge plate will extend into the platform area 12 inches to 16 inches or more. This will require that every walking passenger at every single door opening at every single station will need to use the entire ramp. On crowded platforms it may be difficult to see the ramp. For persons with visual impairments it may also be difficult to sense the ramp. People exiting the train may attempt to walk off the sides of the ramp instead of proceeding down the entire length, which will create a tripping hazard. Similarly people entering the train may attempt to step onto the side of the ramp near the door, instead of walking the entire ramp, which will create a tripping hazard.

3.Once folded out the bridge plate will be a tripping hazard to persons on the train attempting to board or alight. The platform will need to fold out and sit on top of the finished floor, which will create a tripping hazard as people generally expect a flat floor without steps once they walk onto a train and are typically not looking down as they walk.

4.In order to ensure that the plates are only deployed when stopped at a station and the doors are open, safety interlocks will need to be provided between the bridge plates and the side door and/or car propulsion system. The interlocks will prevent the car from moving when the plates are extended and prevent the plates from extending when the car is moving or the doors are purposely kept closed. Should any of the interlocks fail an unsafe condition would exist, therefore the sensors would need to be redundant to reduce the likelihood of a false indication. Consequently the high number of sensors increases the likelihood that a train will be prevented from moving due to a failed sensor or failed actuating device. To address these concerns by pass devices would need to be provided to allow train movement in case of an emergency due to sensor and or device failure.

5.Inclement weather conditions will create additional safety concerns. Built up snow and ice on the platform, vestibule and bridge plate will inhibit deployment and retraction of bridge plate. This may result in the bridge plate being prevented from fully deploying or retracting or properly interfacing with the platform which will cause unsafe conditions for the passengers attempting to board and or exit the train. This will also result in train delays since operation will be tied to train movement.

In addition to the safety concerns outlined above there are additional concerns with the automatically deploying bridge plates which include complexity of the device, storage space, increased station dwell times, infrastructure restrictions, significantly increased procurement and maintenance costs, car weight and reduced overall reliability of the transportation system. These concerns are explained in more detail below:

1.In order to meet the slope, stowage and range of vertical and horizontal gaps required by the regulation and automatically deploy and retract safely the design of the device may be more complicated than it may appear. If stored on the vestibule wall, the device would need at least two hydraulic or electrical motion devices or a single motion device and a mechanical actuating device, so that it can fold onto the vestibule floor then fold onto the platform. If space is a constraint, additional levels of folding may be required to fit in the available space. In order to allow for deployment or retraction due to device failure, mechanical back systems would need to be provided to deploy and retract the device, further complicating the system design. Due to concerns of snow and ice build-up under freezing conditions, heating provisions or other methods will be necessary to clear the bridge plate, and platform and bridge plate of built up snow and ice.

2.In order to meet the slope, stowage and range of vertical and horizontal gaps required by the regulation and automatically deploy and retract, the size of the device will be quite large. The size will vary depending upon the infrastructure present at each operating authority. Since the bridge plate for all accessible doors on all cars will need to be designed to accommodate the largest vertical gap present on the system as well as the largest horizontal gap on the system, it may be much larger than necessary at most stations. The length of the bridge plate will need to be at least 20 inches long to provide some overlap on the car floor and meet the slope requirements for typical 3 inch to 6 inch vertical gap. Secondly the device will need to span the entire door width so as not to create a tripping hazard and provide the necessary passenger flow rates required. Many authorities including LIRR and MNR typically have 50 inch wide door openings. In order to accommodate both positive and negative vertical gaps, the ramp will either need to have a curved arch or have a flexible hinge, both of which will take up additional space for storage of the ramp alone. Add to that operating mechanism and the size of the storage space for the ramp will be on the order of 50 inches by 20 inches by about 8 inches of depth. For a typical commuter rail car with 4 doors this would be equivalent to a box of 50 inches by 20 inches by 32 inches, which is significant for a commuter car where every inch of space counts. When considering that some subway cars have more then 4 openings per car, the amount of space occupied by the devices is even greater.

3.Deployment and retraction of the devices will increase dwell time at each and every station stop. It is estimated to take approximately 20 seconds or more to safely deploy the bridge plate and another 20 seconds or more to retract the bridge plate. In addition there will need to be an additional waiting period of at least 20 seconds to allow for the vestibules to clear, before the bridge plate can be deployed. Considering there is only 3-5 minutes to load and unload a train during rush-hour conditions, the additional time required on top of the current time required for opening and closing doors will require that additional time be spent at the station reducing the capacity of the transportation system to more people, which will lead to more crowded trains.

4.Deployment of the device may not be possible at all station locations due to existing infrastructure. The existing infrastructure at stations including columns and other obstructions would prevent the deployment of the devices. Considering the size of the devices is approximately 15 inches long and 50 inches wide, there simply is not always enough space at every door opening to accommodate the fold out bridge plates.

5.Due to the complexity of the system as outlined above the cost of purchase and maintenance of the devices would be significant. Maintenance costs would include the added expenses associated with maintaining a significant new pool of spare parts from a single source of supply and addressing obsolescence issues associated with complicated controls systems available only from the OEM.

6.Additional weight associated with the implementation of bridge plates is not insignificant. Heavier cars use more energy to move. Federal carbody safety regulations require significant structure which adds weight to rail cars. Many operating agencies are at the limits for weight for their vehicles. Consequently the authorities and the car builders are always looking for ways to reduce the weight of the rail cars. A rough order of magnitude estimate of the weigh associated with one device is 200 pounds. Considering that there are typically 4 doors on each car, the increase in weight per car would be 800 pounds.

7.Due to the complexity of the system as outlined above and the required interlocks associated with safe operation, the overall reliability of the rail car will decrease. As outlined above, the bridge plate system will require several new components, which if failed would prevent the car from continuing in service carrying passengers. Every new component added to a rail car that can fail, and prevent the rail car from continuing in service reduces the reliability of the car and the transportation system.

Near level boarding is generally considered the best boarding and alighting condition for everyone, and most authorities expend money and resources to reduce the gap to the extent practical but cannot achieve compliant small gaps at all stations. Considering the difficulty associated with bridge plates, would it be better to have more stations with small gaps, especially high transfer stations, and use bridge plates only when necessary than to require everyone use a bridge plate at every station, even those with very small gaps? By requiring bridge plates be used at all stations by requiring automatic deployment, you are providing an incentive to increase the gaps at the stations with small gaps since bridge plates will be required at these stations due to possibly a few problem stations on the infrastructure. The one size fits all approach, dictated by an interpretation of the proposed requirement is not in the best interest of all

 

 


January 2015 

Boarding and Alighting Subcommittee

PROPOSAL

Full length level boarding should be the highest priority and most preferred method of boarding on all rail modes, whether light rail, rapid rail, intercity rail, and/or commuter rail.

When full length level boarding is not required or possible, boarding should be, as often as possible, by ramp or bridge-plate as the primary 100% reliable and quick means for boarding. Mechanical lifts should be a back-up alternative when necessary. Where mechanical lifts are needed, they should be car-borne, not station-based.

NOTES: The colored red text below which is underlined indicates sections that include new material that differs from the current Access Board Guidelines.
Text in brackets [shown in yellow] indicates references to specifications for elements that need to be filled in. Access Board staff assistance is requested to calculate accurate metric specifications that correspond to inches/pounds.

Bulleted Text in Italics and all capitols is the Rationale.

Scoping

RATIONALE: BASED ON EXAMPLES OF AUTOMATED RAMPS OR BRIDGEPLATES BEING USED IN SOME EUROPEAN RAIL SYSTEMS, THE MAJORITY OF THE COMMITTEE FELT THAT AUTOMATED RAMPS OR BRIDGEPLATES FOR NEW RAIL CARS BEGINNING IN THE THIRD DECADE OF THE 21ST CENTURY WAS NOT BEYOND REACH. THE MAJORITY OF COMMITTEE MEMBERS FELT THAT BASED ON VIDEOS THEY HAD SEEM OF AUTOMATED RAMPS OR BRIDGEPLATES ON EUROPEAN EQUIPMENT, PROVISION OF AUTOMATED RAMPS OR BRIDGEPLATE WOULD INCREASE SAFETY FOR ALL PASSENGERS (BY MITIGATING THE VERTICAL AND HORIZONTAL GAPS) AND WOULD SPEED BOARDING AND ALIGHTING AND THEREFORE REDUCE DWELL TIME.
You Tube Videos of automated gap fillers from some European Trains. Gap fillers in use are visible at beginning of each of these videos:
Liepzig - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSwPYrkzUyc#t=4m51s
Stuttgart - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dv_Dp6i8ev0
Vienna - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-yjbnkraBCQ#t=0m30s

 

OBJECTION/CONCERN REGARDING AUTOMATED RAMPS OR BRIDGEPLATES

RATIONALE: AT LEAST ONE LARGE TRANSIT AUTHORITY THAT OPERATES BOTH COMMUTER RAIL AND RAPID RAIL RAISED STRONG CONCERNS THAT AUTOMATED RAMPS OR BRIDGEPLATED WOULD POSE SAFETY HAZARDS TO BOTH PASSENGERS ON THE PLATFORMS AND PASSENGERS ON THE RAIL CARS. THE CONCERNS INVOLVED KEEPING PASSENGERS ON THE PLATFORMS AWAY FROM THE DEPLOYING RAMP OR BRIDGEPLATES. THE AGENCY ALSO RAISED TECHNICAL CONCERNS THAT AN AUTOMATED RAMP OR BRIDGEPLATE WOULD BE DIFFICULT TO DESIGN TO MEET THE LARGEST VERTICAL AND HORIZONTAL GAPS IN THE SYSTEM. THE AGENCY RAISED CONCERNS THAT ELEMENTS OF AN AUTOMATED RAMP OR BRIDGEPLATE WITHIN THE CAR COULD PRESENT A TRIPPING HAZARD IN THE CAR. THE AGENCY ALSO RAISED TECHNICAL CONCERNS ABOUT THE COMPLEXITY, COST, WEIGHT, RELIABILITY (PARTICULARLY IN ADVERSE WEATHER CONDITIONS), AND SAFETY INTERLOCKINGS OF WHAT IT ENVISIONED TO BE A COMPLICATED MECHANISM PROVIDED TO EVERY DOOR OF A COMMUTER RAIL OR RAPID RAIL CAR,

Ramps and Bridgeplates

RATIONALE: THE INCREASE IN DESIGN LOAD REFLECTS THE RESEARCH THAT THE COMBINED WEIGHT OF POWER WHEELCHAIRS AND USERS IS INCREASING AND THE INDUSTRY IS PROVIDING HIGHER CAPACITY LIFTS AND HIGHER CAPACITY LIFTS WILL LIKELY BE PROVIDED IN THE NEW ACCESS BOARD’S NON-RAIL VEHICLE ACCESSIBILITY GUIDELINES

RATIONALE: THIS RECOGNIZED THAT IN SOME CIRCUMSTANCES LONGER RAMPS AND BRIDGEPLATES ARE NECESSARY AND THUS HANDRAILS ARE NEEDED IN THESE SITUATIONS. (i.e. Amtrak set-back platforms in Maine have a considerable horizontal gap to provide clearance for freight trains using the same track)

RATIONALE: THIS WAS ADDED BASED ON SOME EXPERIENCE OF WHEELED MOBILITY DEVICE USERS WHO REPORTED SITUATIONS WHEN RAMPS AND BRIDGEPLATES WERE NOT SECURELY CONNECTED TO THE RAIL CAR.

Lifts

General.

RATIONALE: SAME AS ABOVE FOR RAMPS, CONSISTENCY WITH PROPOSED REGULATIONS FOR NON-RAIL VEHICLES.

Controls.

Lift Platforms.

RATIONALE: SAME AS ABOVE FOR RAMPS, CONSISTENCY WITH PROPOSED REGULATIONS FOR NON-RAIL VEHICLES.