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Hartford Line's CTrail Trains To Run Without Bathrooms After ADA Complaint

Hartford Courant - 6/13/2018

June 13--A complaint from a state disability advocacy organization has shuttered bathrooms aboard the Hartford Line's CTrail trains just before the new commuter line's launch this weekend.

Restrooms on half of the Hartford Line trains -- those operated by the state as opposed to Amtrak -- will remain closed until they are made accessible to individuals with disabilities in early 2019, the state Department of Transportation announced Tuesday.

The closure comes in response to a reversed decision from the Federal Railroad Administration, which had previously granted the state a temporary exemption from the Americans for Disabilities Act, according to the DOT.

Disability Rights Connecticut, a nonprofit advocacy group for state residents with disabilities, said it filed an ADA complaint with the FRA on June 8 regarding the new commuter line, which is scheduled to open Saturday.

The FRA notified the DOT Monday that they had considered the disability advocate group's complaint and found it "has merit" despite the DOT's future plans to eventually provide accessible bathrooms.

"All restrooms on each consist [railroad vehicle] must be locked out until at least one accessible restroom per consist is actually provided," the FRA wrote in a letter to the DOT Monday.

In January, the DOT acknowledged concerns raised by the FRA regarding the lack of handicap-accessible bathrooms and notified the administration that it planned on providing one accessible bathroom for every three to four coaches.

The DOT also said it would publicly advertise the limitations of the current bathrooms until the changes were made, according to letters sent from the DOT to the FRA in January.

The DOT said the FRA agreed in November to allow the department to use the coaches without the accessible bathrooms in the interim period until new bathrooms were installed.

A member of the disability community brought the issue to the organization's attention, said executive director Gretchen Knauff. Her complaint contends that the state's current proposed solution -- placing accessible, portable bathrooms at train stations -- "fails to address the lack of accessible bathrooms on the trains."

"Our objective isn't to deny everybody the use of a bathroom," Knauff said Tuesday. "It's just to make sure there is a substantially equal opportunity for people with disabilities to use a bathroom."

The DOT has installed fully accessible portable restrooms at five Hartford Line stations that did not have them -- Berlin, Meriden, Wallingford, Windsor and Windsor Locks -- and new signs that make clear which cars will have available restrooms.

Despite the lack of bathrooms, the DOT said they do not expect the FRA's decision to significantly reduce the number of travelers on the new line.

"We do not expect a significant impact on ridership, as this will be only temporary. But of course, time will tell," the DOT said Tuesday. All Amtrak trains -- which comprise half of the Hartford Line -- have on-board, accessible restrooms available for passengers to use during their trips.

Commissioner James Redeker said in a news release that the DOT planned to modify the bathrooms of the older coaches Connecticut is leasing from Massachusetts for the Hartford Line. In the meantime, the FRA approved an interim ADA "exception in the regulations for older coaches in intercity service," the news release said.

"However, the FRA reversed this decision days before the launch of the Hartford Line, and the bathrooms must now remain locked until the modifications are complete and one accessible restroom per consist is available," the release said.

Knauff, of Disability Rights Connecticut, said when the complaint was filed that she did not see the new commuter line as a source of pride or celebration for the state.

"How can you begin a bright new transportation era while treating people with disabilities like second class citizens?" she said.

Courant staff writer Ruth Bruno contributed to this story

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(c)2018 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)

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