MBTA to enhance access for disabled

Platforms, ramps set for 2 stations

By John Laidler
Globe Correspondent / February 21, 2010

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People with disabilities will be able to safely board trains in Winchester as a result of a project the state is undertaking with $2 million in federal stimulus funds.

The MBTA plans to install two mini-platforms and two ramps at the Wedgemere Commuter Rail Station, enhancements designed to make the station accessible to the disabled.

With the support of US Representative Edward J. Markey, the Patrick administration made the decision to allot the stimulus funds to the project.

“This really is a win for us as far as addressing our accessibility needs,’’ said MBTA spokeswoman Lydia Rivera.

The project is currently in design, with construction anticipated to conclude by the end of this year.

“It’s a major transportation facility in our community, and we are looking forward to having handicapped individuals use it,’’ said Town Manager Melvin Kleckner of Wedgemere, which serves 591 boarding passengers a day, according to February 2009 figures.

Wedgemere and a second MBTA station in town - Winchester Center - are both inaccessible to people with disabilities.

The existing platforms at Wedgemere station are not level with the train floor, so that passengers must climb steps to board the train. And to reach the platforms requires climbing stairs from the street 20 feet below. The station parking lot has no accessible spaces.

The mini-platforms will be built atop part of the existing platforms on the inbound and outbound sides of the station. Reachable by short ramps from the regular low-level platform, the mini-platforms will be level with the train floors, allowing riders to board the train without having to climb stairs. Each mini-platform will be 45 feet long, enough to provide access to two coaches.

The project also calls for construction of ramps from the street to the two regular low-level platforms, and providing accessible parking spaces. The T also plans to include additional accessibility improvements to be carried out in a future project, including the installation of Braille signs.

MBTA officials said Jean Batty, the chairwoman of Winchester’s Disability Access Commission, played a key role in making the project a reality.

Batty, whose 5-year-old son uses a wheelchair, contacted the MBTA’s Department of System-Wide Accessibility in 2008 to ask if there were any plans to make Wedgemere or Winchester stations accessible. Gary Talbot, an assistant general manager for the T who oversees that department, recalled the request on a Feb. 12 posting on the state Department of Transportation’s blog.

“At the time, we explained to Ms. Batty that, because Winchester and Wedgemere were not considered key stations and because they were not undergoing significant alterations, there was no legal requirement for the MBTA to make either station accessible,’’ Talbot said. “This was not what we wanted to tell Ms. Batty or what she expected to hear from the MBTA.’’

Undeterred, Batty focused her efforts on the Wedgemere station.

That led to the Federal Transit Administration granting the T permission to install mini-platforms last July. Batty then worked with T officials on the effort that led to funding, according to Talbot.

When the project is completed, the T still will have 36 commuter rail stations inaccessible to people with disabilities. Rivera said the T’s eventual goal, as funds become available, is to make all of its 133 stations accessible.

Talbot said of Batty, “I credit her with getting the lack of accessibility at Wedgemere in front of everyone,’’ and he credited Governor Deval Patrick, Transportation Secretary Jeffrey Mullan, and acting MBTA General Manager William A. Mitchell Jr. for agreeing to use stimulus funds for the project.

“I think it’s outstanding,’’ said Talbot, who uses a wheelchair. “What better use of federal funds than to create access where none exists today.’’