Passenger rail station accessibility gets renewed focus with new funding program

Nov. 17, 2021
A new program established with the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal allows eligible entities to apply for funding dedicated to bringing legacy passenger rail stations and facilities into ADA compliance.

The All Stations Accessibility Program is one of the four new programs established under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal (BID) that was signed into law by President Joe Biden Nov. 15, 2021.  

The program, originally introduced as bicameral legislation led by U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), provides eligible entities with competitive grant funding to help address accessibility needs of legacy rail fixed guideway public transit systems.  

In an exclusive interview with Mass Transit, Sen. Duckworth explains it was key to ensure there would be complete investment when talking about the larger infrastructure bill.  

“It can't just be in one mode of travel or for one particular population of people. It needs to be something that benefits all Americans. And in this case, persons with disabilities are still facing hurdles to accessing our nation's infrastructure,” Duckworth said.  

The All Stations Accessibility Program establishes a $1.75-billion grant fund over five years for eligible entities, including state or local governments, to provide financial assistance in capital projects to increase the number of existing passenger rail stations or facilities that meet or exceed construction standards of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

Duckworth says establishing this dedicated funding for ADA accessibility was critical to not only passengers using the infrastructure, but also to the agencies working bring their systems into compliance. 

“When I spoke with local transit authorities, [they would say] this has always been in our top three of things we want to do, but when we have limited resources and we have to choose, we're always going to choose safety and newer train cars. Which makes sense. You can't argue with that,” Duckworth said. 

During her conversations with transit agencies, like the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), they explained a separate, dedicated fund that can only be used for ADA compliance would expediate the process.  

“Because it is a separate fund that can't be used for anything else, it basically protects the funding for disability access, and we're going to see very rapid compliance, I think, with the ADA,” Duckworth added. 

Over the five years, $350 million will be made available each fiscal year with the federal government covering up to 80 percent of project costs for each recipient. Recipients may use funding for the following, according to the bill’s text: 

  • A project to repair, improve, or relocate infrastructure of stations or facilities for passenger use, including load-bearing members that are an essential part of the structural frame; and
  • Develop or modify a plan for pursuing public transportation accessibility projects, assessments of accessibility, or assessments of planned modifications to stations or facilities for passenger use. 

Entities wanting to apply for funding are encouraged to consult the necessary stakeholders as well as the surrounding community to ensure access will be created for individuals with physical disabilities, including those who use wheelchairs; accessibility for individuals with sensory disabilities; and accessibility for individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities 

BID’s accessibility requirements for Amtrak 

In addition to the competitive grant funding provided in the BID through the All Stations Accessibility Program, the bill requires Amtrak to budget at least $50 million per year over five years, a total of $250 million, for capital projects that upgrade the accessibility of Amtrak’s system by increasing the number of ADA-compliant passenger facilities. This funding requirement will be in place until the transportation secretary determines Amtrak’s existing facilities are in compliance with the ADA. 

Amtrak will also have to establish a new, permanent disability advocate seat on Amtrak’s board of directors for a person “with a disability (as defined in Section 3 of the ADA) who has a demonstrated history of, or experience with, accessibility, mobility and inclusive transportation in passenger rail or commuter rail.” 

Duckworth explains this was another priority to speed up ADA compliance at Amtrak facilities and stations, something that Duckworth notes has been pushed to the back burner multiple times due to other priorities.  

“[Addressing accessibility] was always at the discretion of the board president. But now, it's no longer their discretion. Now, it's law,” Duckworth said.  

With this new program re-igniting the focus of ADA compliance, Duckworth believes this topic will now be considered from the on-set.  

“I think you're going to see that the disability considerations will be happening at the front end of those decisions. [Accessibility] will be part and integral of the planning process from the very beginning,” Duckworth concluded.  

About the Author

Megan Perrero | Associate Editor

Megan Perrero is an award-winning B2B journalist. She is the associate editor of Mass Transit magazine where she assists with developing the newsletters and social media posts, along with the online and print content. She is currently a board member for Latinos in Transit and serves on the APTA Marketing and Communications Committee. She’s based out of Chicago, Ill.

Prior to joining the team, Perrero gained experience covering the manufacturing and processing food and beverage industry, the agriculture industry and the library industry.

Perrero is a Columbia College Chicago alumna where she earned a bachelor's degree in journalism with a concentration in magazine writing and a minor in public relations.