Friday, May 10, 2013

A Problem with Amtrak

Yesterday I went to the monthly meeting of the Staunton Downtown Development Association-Design Committee. During the meeting we got to hear a short presentation from Frank Strassler, director of the Historic Staunton Foundation, regarding upcoming plans by Amtrak to do accessibility upgrades to the train station here in Staunton. For those of you who aren't up on this lingo, that means accessibility for the handicapped, as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Well, you might say "that sounds like a good thing", and in general you would be right. It is the right thing to do. The rub comes in the how. Right now the plans are very advanced, and they will drastically affect the historic features of the station and the platform canopy.

Some of the things that are currently planned are:

1. Adding an 8" layer of concrete to the top of the platform, and extending the platform out toward the tracks, in order to align the level of the platform and the level of exit from the train. There is no consideration of the effect this will have on the existing station or the cast-iron columns supporting the canopy. I don't want to get too far into the architectural weeds here, but this is heavy-handed and not well thought out.

2. Removing the historic brick paving from the area in front of the platform area at the American Hotel. The plan is to create a sidewalk area in front of the platform, and install new brick paving. The existing paving is the only visible remnant of the original brick streets of Staunton. The plan will also reduce the area available for backing up from the parking spaces.

There are other issues as well and I haven't been able to look at these plans for more than a few minutes so far. Frank is going to be receiving his official copy of these plans in the next few days. We at the Design Committee, the city staff, the Historic Preservation Commission, and the Historic Staunton Foundation will be reviewing the issue closely in order to formulate a response. We hope to organize an effort to put strong pressure on Amtrak to revise this plan, in order to come up with a less destructive way to make the station more accessible.

I'll be continuing to post updates as I get more information. Stay tuned.