Connecticut Rail is set to launch its commuter service between New Haven and Springfield this weekend, but now, the Federal Railroad Administration says nobody can use bathrooms on those trains.
The 30-year-old CTrail cars do not have bathrooms that are accessible to people with disabilities. So Gretchen Knauff of Disability Rights Connecticut filed a complaint with the FRA.
“So this is not a great choice for people with disabilities or for anyone, but it really was the only solution that would provide equality for people with disabilities.”
Knauff says her group met with Connecticut Department of Transportation officials last week before filing a complaint. Officials said they planned to install accessible port-a-potties at stations.
“You know what is going to happen with that? Do you get off the train? What if it takes you some time to use the bathroom, are they gonna wait for you? I mean it just seemed like that solution wasn’t going to be one that was gonna be workable. ”
Knauff says she’s concerned that department officials did not consider accessibility in their years of planning the Hartford Line. Commissioner Jim Redeker disagrees.
“The entire program from the day we started was focused on converting an entire rail system that was inaccessible to an accessible one.”
Redeker says he updated stations with elevators, built accessible parking lots, and the department reached out to disability rights groups to share plans. But the railcars set to run on the Hartford Line were too busy serving the New Haven line, so Redeker had to lease cars from Massachusetts. Those rail cars were built before the Americans with Disabilities Act existed.
“What changed was the need to lease coaches and there are no accessible coaches available to lease in the country. We chose the most accessible ones and chose to modify them. And we’re doing that. We’re still doing that.”
Redeker says the FRA approved a waiver to use the bathrooms in November. This week, the agency changed its mind. An FRA spokesperson says, "The FRA must enforce the law. CTDOT has been a good partner and we look forward to continuing to work together in ensuring full compliance with DOT ADA Regulations.”
Redeker says some accessible bathrooms will be ready by the fall, but they won’t be installed on all trains until early next year. By the Hartford Line launch on Saturday, half of the trains will have bathrooms—those are run by Amtrak.