Plasan Carbon Composites (PCC), a leading supplier of carbon fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP) components for the transportation market, announced on Friday that it has been awarded a contract to produce the first composite ramps and bridgeplates for Amtrak®. The units, which are part of Amtrak’s Accessible Boarding Technologies (ABT) Program, help make it easier and more accessible for passengers with disabilities, the elderly, as well as those pushing strollers or pulling luggage to embark and disembark from trains, providing as close to independent access as possible at all available railcars along a platform. The initial order of 190 composite ramps and bridgeplates will be deployed at various Amtrak locations and on various railcars followed by further distribution throughout the Amtrak system.

Under the guidance of Gary Talbot, Amtrak program director-ADA, the company currently is in the process of redesigning and rebuilding platforms, station structures, and parking lots at many stations throughout its North American network to ensure they comply with the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. One area of focus is developing lighter and better designed ABTs — specifically bridgeplates and ramps.

Between any passenger platform and the trains that pass it, a gap is left to provide safe clearance during normal train operations. Gap dimensions (defined as the horizontal and vertical distance between platform and railcar) are designed based on minimum industry standards as well as clearance requirements for the types of trains (passenger, freight, or both) operating adjacent to a platform.  Platforms at stations with passenger-only trains typically have smaller gaps than those with shared-use (passenger-plus-freight) trains. Ambulatory passengers are reminded to “mind the gap” and step over the 3.0 to 10-inch/7.6 to 25-centimeter horizontal gap and approximately 3.0-inch/7.6-centimeter vertical gap between train and platform during entry/exit. At some stations, however, gaps between train cars and platforms can be even larger and that can make it difficult for passengers using wheeled mobility devices to span the gap even when a bridgeplate (used for level boarding) or a ramp (used for uneven/bi-level boarding or for shared-use platforms) is installed. Bridgeplates and ramps are typically made of aluminum and can weigh as much as 34 pounds/15 kilograms for a small bridgeplate and 87 pounds/40 kilograms for a short ramp without handrails. Bridgeplates are stored at stations and used at passenger-only platforms, whereas ramps are stored on trains and used on shared-use platforms.

Initially, Amtrak developed its own prototype tooling and units, which were produced by RLE International (Madison Heights, Mich.). The goal was to increase passenger accessibility and to reduce weight so these ABT devices were easier for employees to carry and deploy/remove. Next, Amtrak sought bids from companies thought capable of optimizing the design, as well as molding, assembling, and finishing production units. The plan required the manufacturer to produce assembled CFRP bridgeplates in two styles — Acela and Regional — that weighed no more than 20 pounds/9.1 kilograms each and accommodated two different door-opening widths. The plan also called for production and assembly of telescoping ramps with integrated folding handrails in two styles – Superliner (with metal hooks) and Surfliner (with CFRP hooks) — that weighed no more than 55 pounds/25 kilograms each and that accommodated two different attachment methods to trains.