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Wheelchairs Crossing Flangeway Gaps at Railroad Crossings

Flangeway gaps at rail crossings are an accessibility concern for wheelchair users, and are an impediment to the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (ATBCB) goal of having a continuous path for wheelchairs with a maximum gap of inch. Ongoing regulatory actions to promulgate federal regulations for accessibility on public rights-of-way require some resolution of this issue. Rail lines that carry fright need a 3 inch minimum flangeway width when the crossing is newly constructed, and realistic allowances for rail wear, especially on curves, would be about one inch. Light rail lines, where freight equipment is not operated, can achieve 2 inches maximum width when a crossing is newly constructed. These dimensions are problematic for many wheelchair users. There have been numerous reports from pedestrians who use wheelchairs describing circumstances in which the small front wheels of a manual chair dropped into the flangeway gap and could not be extricated. Even the larger wheels of a power chair can swivel and drop sideways into a gap of these dimensions, especially if the rail is raised above the surrounding surface. Flangeway fillers that are currently available do not hold up at the weights and speeds of travel common on freight systems.
Develop concepts so that accessibility effects on pedestrians using wheelchairs crossing track flangeways at pedestrian crossings are no more restrictive than the equivalent of those allowed on new sidewalks in general (maximum gap inch, maximum vertical change inch or inch tapered, maximum grade 8.33%). (see Implementation for more details). The goal is to have at least one safe and tested concept by December 31, 2004.
Key Words:
Highway-rail grade crossings, sidewalks accessibility of public rights-of-way, pedestrian accessibility, wheelchairs, flangeways
Related Work:
Despite the mention in DOT reports as early as 1980, no research related to this matter since that time is known to exist.
This matter needs to be resolved to complete present ATBCB rulemaking on accessible public rights-of-way. Handicapped groups are insisting that flangeway closure be developed, and it is important that federal transportation research funding is not perceived of as biased against the particular transportation research needs of handicapped individuals covered under the ADA.
Cost: $1,200,000 over four years (2001-2004)
User Community:
Pedestrian using wheelchairs, ATBCB, FHWA, State DOTs, local road and street agencies, Transit Agencies, FTA, FRA
The first objective would be to search existing documents and resources, including existing or recent installations or concepts. While it is believed that no successful installations exist except in very low speed, low rail traffic situations, there is always the possibility that this belief is not correct. In cases where flangeway fillers have been installed but have failed, the failure mode could be described. The second objective would be testing of flangeway fillers or other concepts to scientifically document the reasons for failure with the goal of seeing how the designs could be changed to allow for them to be successful. This research could also develop parameters for successful performance. The third objective would be, as designs were developed, to test them for two basic safety criteria: First, providing for the safe passage of trains without derailment under actual conditions of service, including climate, weather, and grade crossing environment conditions such as dirt, debris, and casual vandalism. Second, but equally important, is to provide a safe crossing for wheelchair users under these same conditions. For flangeway fillers this second criteria means that after the passage of a train they will reliably return to a position that provides a safe crossing for wheel chair users that have, through previous use of that crossing, come to expect that flangeways openings at that crossing will not be present.
The results and products of this research will increase the safety and efficiency of pedestrians using wheelchairs who independently cross railroad and transit tracks, while not substantially impeding the public safety benefits derived from the use of rail facilities by passengers and freight instead of alternative, less-safe, modes.

Sponsoring Committee:AHB60, Highway/Rail Grade Crossings
Date Posted:06/01/2007
Date Modified:08/30/2007
Index Terms:Pedestrian movement, At grade intersections, Railroad grade crossings, Crosswalks, Wheelchairs, Wheelchair users, Flangeways, Regulations, Right of way (Traffic), Light rail transit, Pedestrians, Light traffic (Pedestrians, cyclists),
Cosponsoring Committees: 
Pedestrians and Bicyclists
Safety and Human Factors

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