Amtrak Begins Construction at Ashland Train Station
Emma White '22
The Ashland train station recently broke ground on a construction project that will update the station’s boarding platforms, alert system, wheelchair lifts, and overall accessibility. The project is funded and managed by Amtrak, as opposed to the Town of Ashland, though both parties are in agreement that these updates are essential to giving customers the best rider experience possible.
The construction is estimated to take 12 months, and scheduled to be completed by fall of 2020. The Ashland Train Station will remain open during this time and Amtrak’s trains will continue running through and serving the town over the next year.
Right now, the brick platforms at the Ashland station are unstable and uneven, as well as low to the ground. Since the doorways to the trains are so elevated, wheelchair users must board the train with the assistance of a lift.
Using this lift on an uneven surface can be unsettling for differently abled passengers.
Additionally, the current pathway used to cross the tracks is not wheelchair friendly. Wheelchair users must cross the street in order to get from one side of the tracks to the other.
Amtrak plans to tear away the old platforms and replace them with evenly laid, wider, and more elevated ones. These lifted platforms will stand level with a new, accessible, and smooth railroad crosswalk, allowing all passengers to cross the tracks more efficiently and directly, and not on the street. The updated platforms will allow more standing room for riders, as well as a safer and more effective surface for wheelchair lifts.
Though wheelchair-using passengers will still require the lift to board the train, it will be a significantly lower rise than before. Amtrak also plans to install coverings on the edge of the platforms under which the lifts will stay while not in use, making them more easily accessible when needed.
In addition to the heavy construction Amtrak is undertaking, small improvements for accessibility will also be made. Currently, there is no concrete alert system to indicate on which side passengers will be boarding the train. Riders are informed which side of the tracks to wait on by an employee at the station, but it is often hard to give proper directions, as the employee cannot know which track the train is arriving on until they physically see it for themselves.
To remedy this, an audio and visual announcement system will be put in place. This system will include a screen that broadcasts which side the train will be arriving on, as well as a speaker system that allows the conductor to announce this information to passengers in real time.
This project’s overall aim is to make the Ashland station compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, or ADA.
In order to reach compliance with ADA, transportation services must provide riders with adequate equipment, facilities, and signage for an uncomplicated riding experience. The Ashland Train station is sorely lacking these features, making the riding experience overall difficult and inaccessible for differently abled individuals.
It was at the urging of a Randolph-Macon student that Amtrak originally considered making changes at the Ashland station. This student was the first to broach the subject with Amtrak, and was supported by the school administration as well as the other parties involved. As a unit, everyone agreed that some major changes were needed, and thus plans for the construction began.
Amtrak has had trouble in the past complying with ADA regulations, but has made many improvements over the past few years at their stations around the country.
The construction is still in its first stages, and barriers were put up along parts of Center St. adjacent to the station. The construction will take place in two phases, the first phase consisting of updates to the North portion of the area, and the second phase updating the South end. While completing both phases, barriers will remain in place indicating to pedestrians where and where not to walk.
Unfortunately for the college community, the extension of the passenger platforms means the permanent loss of 9 parking spots on Center Street. In extending the platforms, an integrated ramp will be required, meaning the street will only be wide enough to fit one lane of traffic, effectively taking away our parking spaces on the station side of the street.
Dean Grant Azdell, the Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students at R-MC, has remained in close communication with Amtrak and the Ashland Train Station during the construction and planning process, and believes that “even though we don't have the kind of ridership that Staples Mill [in Richmond] or other stops have, we've got good ridership” at the Ashland station.
Dean Azdell said with regard to the project that “obviously [Amtrak] thinks it's worth it. They wouldn’t invest the money if they didn't think this was a stop that was worth keeping open.” Dean Azdell notes the significance of the railroad to the R-MC community, stating that “this campus was built here because of the rail line. At the time, that was the mode of transportation, and even as we've moved forward in time and people depend more on their cars, the rail line is a great opportunity to be able to get up and down the Northeast Corridor.”