ADVOCATES for improved train accessibility in Terrace, B.C., will finally get a chance to voice their concerns directly to Via Rail, with the crown corporation hosting a public meeting here next Tuesday.
“Accessibility is a primary concern for Via Rail,” reads a Via rail press release sent out Sept. 17, announcing the Sept. 24 meeting. “Representatives from the corporation look forward to meeting with officials and locals, and presenting possible projects to improve accessibility to our trains.”
The City of Terrace has been in contact with Via Rail several times over the last few years regarding train accessibility issues, said Heather Avison, Terrace’s chief administrative officer.
Of concern is the fact that the train station here, which is part of the city-owned George Little House retail and office facility, does not have a mechanical lift or a ramp capable of assisting passengers in wheelchairs on and off trains operated by Via Rail. The closest mechanical lifts to Terrace are in Prince Rupert or in Prince George.
After several failed attempts to communicate with Via Rail on the issue, the city sent a letter to the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) last year urging intervention.
In July of last year the CTA responded, noting that there would be certain circumstances where stations would be unable to accommodate persons in wheelchairs.
It noted that in those instances Via Rail is supposed to arrange, at its own expense, alternate transportation to the nearest station with a lift or to the passengers final destination – a process that critics say defeats the purpose of travelling by train and that the CTA acknowledged might not always be feasible or cost-efficient in remote communities.
The city responded with a letter asking the CTA to consider the idea of installing a portable ramp at the station in Terrace, an idea put forth by the city’s seniors’ committee.
A ramp is viewed as a cost efficient alternative to a mechanical lift.
The CTA then responded it would discuss the idea with Via, while noting installing a ramp would be a voluntary act by Via.
The city also sent letters to municipalities in the region asking them to support improvements to the accessibility for VIA Rail passengers at the request of the seniors’ committee.
In the city’s most recent correspondence with the CTA on April 26 of this year, director of accessible transportation Mary-Jane Gravelle said in a letter, “staff of the accessible transportation directorate have had discussions with VIA regarding this matter and continue to do so.
“Agency staff has also been working with Transport Canada’s Transportation Development Centre (TDC) who have initiative a project to investigate potential boarding technologies for passengers with disabilities. VIA has recently informed the Agency of its intent to contact the communities that raised concerns in order to organize public information meetings.”
The public meeting will be held at the Sportsplex next Tuesday, Sept. 24 at 6:30 p.m.