IF YOU’RE in a wheelchair and want to travel by train to and from Terrace, you’re out of luck.
The train station here does not have a mechanical lift or a ramp capable of assisting passengers in wheelchairs on and off trains operated by Via Rail, a federal crown corporation.
“There’s no way someone in a motorized wheelchair can get on the train. There’s no way,” said Yvonne Nielsen, a member of the Greater Terrace Seniors’ Advisory Committee.
The closest mechanical lifts to Terrace are in Prince Rupert or in Prince George, often the final destination of the passenger, she said.
And as the population gets older, more people with mobility issues are going to want to ride the train, she said.
In B.C. almost five per cent of adults over 65 use a wheelchair, according to a 2011 UBC study.
“Via’s supposed to make their trains accessible,” said Nielsen. “This has been going on for years and years.”
The city has so far been unsuccessful in urging Via Rail to improve wheelchair access at the station here, which is part of the city-owned George Little House retail and office facility.
“Despite attempts to work with Via Rail regarding the issue of wheelchair lifts at passenger train stations, and in particular at the Via Rail station here in Terrace, there has been no resolution,” said a letter, signed by mayor Dave Pernarowski, sent to the federal Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA).
In a July 16 response letter to the city, the CTA said it recognizes there were certain circumstances where Via Rail would be unable to accommodate a passenger in a wheelchair at some of the 346 stations that do not have high level platforms or mechanical lifts.
Circumstances that may hinder accessibility include station infrastructure, the height of the rail steps, the absence of a platform, limited staff on-board and off, and collective agreements that limit the weight an employee can lift.
And in places where Via can’t handle wheelchair passengers, it is supposed to arrange, at is own expense, alternate transportation to the nearest station with a lift or to the passenger’s final destination.
“This may not be a feasible system-wide solution,” added the CTA, noting the cost and availability of alternate transportation in remote communities.
Putting people on a bus isn’t an equitable alternative, said Nielsen.
“It defeats the whole purpose,” she said. “You’re missing the whole train trip. The scenery is totally different on the train than it is from the highway.”
The city’s seniors’ committee now wants a portable ramp for wheelchair use located at the station here.
A ramp is viewed as a cost efficient alternative to a mechanical lift.
Another letter has been sent by the city to the CTA asking that this idea be considered.
The CTA now says it is discussing the idea with Via Rail although the agency does note that installing a ramp would be a voluntary act by Via Rail.
If the city is not satisfied with
Via’s response, it could file a formal complaint with the CTA. That could result in Via being ordered by the federal agency to take corrective measures.