De­te­ri­o­rat­ing train sta­tions pose ac­cess dif­fi­cul­ties

The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT) - - FRONT PAGE - By Ig­na­cio La­guarda

STAM­FORD — Walk­ing down the stairs of the park­ing garage at the Stam­ford train sta­tion can feel a bit like play­ing a game of hop­scotch. Miss­ing steel toe­caps and pro­trud­ing bolts force com­muters to dodge ob­sta­cles.

Just ask Jef­frey Maron, who once fell on the stairs, and has of­ten tripped try­ing to nav­i­gate the stair­well.

“It bruised my ego more than any­thing else … but peo­ple trip all the time,” said Maron, the vice chair­man of the Con­necti­cut Com­muter Rail Coun­cil.

The stairs at the garage may seem like a mi­nor in­con­ve­nience to most, but they rep­re­sent one of the ways in which MetroNorth’s New Haven Line can be a chal­lenge for those who have dif­fi­culty mov­ing about, ei­ther due to hand­i­cap or en­cum­brance such as a large stroller.

The is­sue of ac­ces­si­bil­ity at train sta­tions in the re­gion has come un­der more in­tense light fol­low­ing the death late last month of Stam­ford res­i­dent Malaysia Good­son, 22, who was found un­con­scious in a New York City sub­way sta­tion af­ter fall­ing down stairs. At the time, she was push­ing a stroller car­ry­ing her 1year-old daugh­ter, who sur­vived. The city’s chief med­i­cal ex­am­iner con­cluded that Good­son’s death was re­lated to a pre-ex­ist­ing med­i­cal con­di­tion, not the fall, which Good­son’s fam­ily has dis­puted. Re­gard­less of any out­come of that dis­pute, many rail rid­ers in the days fol­low­ing the tragedy com­mented it was not sur­pris­ing a fall hap­pened given the threats too many train sta­tions pose, whether in New York or along the lines lead­ing to it.

Maron has long had frus­tra­tions with Stam­ford’s di­lap­i­dated park­ing garage. He said the cur­rent lay­out is coun­ter­in­tu­itive, since the eas­i­est ac­cess point for dis­abled cus­tomers is through the fourth­floor bridge be­tween the garage and the sta­tion’s main lobby, but there is no way to park near that con­nec­tion, as large swaths have been fenced off.

“You would think that’s the floor peo­ple would use most if they were hand­i­capped,” he said.

Stam­ford is not the only stop along the New Haven line where hand­i­capped rid­ers could have a dif­fi­cult time. Ac­cord­ing to the Con­necti­cut Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion, many sta­tions fall short of com­pli­ance with the Amer­i­can with Dis­abil­i­ties Act.

Sev­eral do not have an “up-and-over” sys­tem that al­lows com­muters to get from one plat­form to another. They in­clude Cos Cob, River­side, Old Green­wich, Noro­ton Heights, Roway­ton, Green’s Farms, South­port, Fair­field and Strat­ford.

East Nor­walk is cur­rently non-com­pli­ant for lack of el­e­va­tors and de­fi­cien­cies in ramp slopes. It is due for an up­grade as part of the Walk Bridge project, which will re­place the 122-year-old de­te­ri­o­rat­ing rail­road bridge that crosses the Nor­walk River.

Along the New Canaan branch, Glen­brook, Spring­dale and Tal­madge Hill have ramps that are too steep.

Im­prove­ments are planned for many sta­tions along the New Haven Line, with the goal to make the span fully com­pli­ant, said Judd Ever­hart, spokesper­son for the Con­necti­cut Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion. But it could take some time to make that goal re­al­ity.

“Go­ing for­ward, when­ever the depart­ment makes ren­o­va­tions to sta­tions, it works to­ward mak­ing that sta­tion fully ADA-com­pli­ant,” he said.

But com­pli­ance is only part of the chal­lenge, said ad­vo­cates. To make the line truly user friendly, com­pli­ance will have to go hand in hand with main­te­nance.

Some sta­tions, such as Stam­ford, check off all the boxes when it comes to ac­ces­si­bil­ity, but there are fre­quent prob­lems with el­e­va­tors and es­ca­la­tors in dis­re­pair.

One com­mon trou­ble area is at the Darien train sta­tion, where the el­e­va­tors to each plat­form are rou­tinely out of order.

Ed Gen­tile, pub­lic works di­rec­tor in Darien, said the el­e­va­tors are ex­posed to the weather and salt­ing on the plat­forms, which leads to mal­func­tions.

“It’s some­thing that we have to mon­i­tor on a reg­u­lar ba­sis,” he said, adding there is a plan to up­grade the Darien sta­tion, at which point the el­e­va­tors would be re­placed with new ones.

With­out op­er­a­tional el­e­va­tors, com­muters in wheel­chairs or push­ing strollers must go up a steep in­cline to get to the sta­tion. On one side, they need to go up the drive­way, where there is ve­hic­u­lar traf­fic to con­tend with.

Gretchen Knauff, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Dis­abil­ity Rights Con­necti­cut, said sta­tions with such prob­lems are sim­ply not ac­ces­si­ble.

“If the el­e­va­tor is not work­ing you’ve cre­ated an in­ac­ces­si­ble sit­u­a­tion, un­less they ac­counted for that,” she said.

Matthew Brown / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

A closed stair­well at the Stam­ford Train Sta­tion.

Matthew Brown / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

A com­muter train passes a closed stair­well at the Stam­ford Train Sta­tion.

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