STAMFORD — Walking down the stairs of the parking garage at the Stamford train station can feel a bit like playing a game of hopscotch. Missing steel toecaps and protruding bolts force commuters to dodge obstacles.
Just ask Jeffrey Maron, who once fell on the stairs, and has often tripped trying to navigate the stairwell.
“It bruised my ego more than anything else … but people trip all the time,” said Maron, the vice chairman of the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council.
The stairs at the garage may seem like a minor inconvenience to most, but they represent one of the ways in which Metro-North’s New Haven Line can be a challenge for those who have difficulty moving about, either due to handicap or encumbrance such as a large stroller.
The issue of accessibility at train stations in the region has come under more intense light following the death late last month of Stamford resident Malaysia Goodson, 22, who was found unconscious in a New York City subway station after falling down stairs. At the time, she was pushing a stroller carrying her 1-year-old daughter, who survived. The city’s chief medical examiner concluded that Goodson’s death was related to a pre-existing medical condition, not the fall, which Goodson’s family has disputed.
Regardless of any outcome of that dispute, many rail riders in the days following the tragedy commented it was not surprising a fall happened given the threats too many train stations pose, whether in New York or along the lines leading to it.
Maron has long had frustrations with Stamford’s dilapidated parking garage. He said the current layout is counterintuitive, since the easiest access point for disabled customers is through the fourth-floor bridge between the garage and the station’s main lobby, but there is no way to park near that connection, as large swaths have been fenced off.
“You would think that’s the floor people would use most if they were handicapped,” he said.
Stamford is not the only stop along the New Haven line where handicapped riders could have a difficult time. According to the Connecticut Department of Transportation, many stations fall short of compliance with the American with Disabilities Act.
Several do not have an “up-and-over” system that allows commuters to get from one platform to another. They include Cos Cob, Riverside, Old Greenwich, Noroton Heights, Rowayton, Green’s Farms, Southport, Fairfield and Stratford.
East Norwalk is currently non-compliant for lack of elevators and deficiencies in ramp slopes. It is due for an upgrade as part of the Walk Bridge project, which will replace the 122-year-old deteriorating railroad bridge that crosses the Norwalk River.
Along the New Canaan branch, Glenbrook, Springdale and Talmadge Hill have ramps that are too steep.
Improvements are planned for many stations along the New Haven Line, with the goal to make the span fully compliant, said Judd Everhart, spokesperson for the Connecticut Department of Transportation. But it could take some time to make that goal reality.
“Going forward, whenever the department makes renovations to stations, it works toward making that station fully ADA-compliant,” he said.
But compliance is only part of the challenge, said advocates. To make the line truly user friendly, compliance will have to go hand in hand with maintenance.
Some stations, such as Stamford, check off all the boxes when it comes to accessibility, but there are frequent problems with elevators and escalators in disrepair.
One common trouble area is at the Darien train station, where the elevators to each platform are routinely out of order.
Ed Gentile, public works director in Darien, said the elevators are exposed to the weather and salting on the platforms, which leads to malfunctions.
“It’s something that we have to monitor on a regular basis,” he said, adding there is a plan to upgrade the Darien station, at which point the elevators would be replaced with new ones.
Without operational elevators, commuters in wheelchairs or pushing strollers must go up a steep incline to get to the station. On one side, they need to go up the driveway, where there is vehicular traffic to contend with.
Gretchen Knauff, the executive director of Disability Rights Connecticut, said stations with such problems are simply not accessible.
“If the elevator is not working you’ve created an inaccessible situation, unless they accounted for that,” she said.