Access Board Initiates Update of Accessibility Guidelines for Rail Cars

The U.S. Access Board is initiating a rulemaking to update its accessibility guidelines for rail cars covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and seeks public comment on this effort. As indicated in an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking the Board plans to update provisions in the ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Transportation Vehicles that apply to vehicles used in fixed guideway systems, including rapid, light, commuter, and intercity rail. The Board requests information from the public for its use in developing a proposed rule.

The Access Board is an independent federal agency that promotes equality for people with disabilities through leadership in accessible design and the development of accessibility guidelines and standards.  Created in 1973 to ensure access to federally funded facilities, the Board is now a leading source of information on accessible design. 

The Board intends to update the rail vehicle guidelines, which were published in 1991, according to an advisory panel it organized. The Rail Vehicles Access Advisory Committee, which included HLAA and representatives from other advocacy organizations, transit operators, rail car manufacturers, and other stakeholders, reviewed the existing guidelines for rail vehicles and recommended how they should be updated to address accessibility issues, advances in technology, changes in car design, and other factors. The Committee’s report provides recommendations on provisions for vehicle communications, boarding and alighting, on-board circulation, seating, and rooms and spaces.

The advance notice discusses the committee’s report and includes questions posed by the Board. The Board seeks comment on both the substance of the recommendations from the committee as well as related questions about the feasibility or potential impacts on vehicle design, operations, and cost. It is also interested in research, data, and technologies on improved accessibility to rail vehicles.

HLAA plans to submit comments. You can too. You don’t need to answer all the questions the Access-Board asks. In fact, there is a specific section requesting comments regarding communication access:

The RVAAC Report recommended a robust expansion of requirements for accessible communications, including provisions for variable message signage (VMS) and hearing induction loops. It also recommended requiring VMS and real-time route map tracking (where provided) to be located in at least two locations in each car, so that every seat has a view of one or more of the accessible signs. RVAAC Report, Chap. 2, §§ I – XI.

Question 4: What solutions or technologies are commercially available that, if implemented, would be capable of providing access to public communications onboard rail vehicles?

Question 5: What solutions or technologies are commercially available that, if implemented on rail vehicles, would provide accessible emergency information to passengers in real-time?

You can make your comments brief and to the point, such as simply saying that hearing induction loops would benefit many people with hearing loss who struggle to hear the announcements over the PA system and the visual messaging boards would also help provided needed information to consumers in rail cars.

The advance notice, which includes Instructions for submitting comments, is posted at (Docket ATBCB-2020-0002). Comments are due May 14, 2020.

For further information, visit the vehicles page or contact Juliet Shoultz at (202) 272-0045 or for technical questions or Wendy Marshall at (202) 272-0043 or for legal questions.