BRATTLEBORO—Passengers on Amtrak’s Vermonter will see improvements to Brattleboro’s Union Station, but not for two years.
Assistant Town Manager Patrick Moreland notified the Selectboard at its May 15 meeting that the U.S. Department of Justice has taken an interest in the conditions at Union Station — specifically on the train platform and inside the waiting room.
They “request that we bring the train station up to full compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act,” Moreland said.
Selectboard member Shanta Lee Gander said she takes the train often, and she agreed the station’s waiting room is “not friendly.” The hallway leading to the waiting room is too narrow for most wheelchairs, she added.
Moreland said Amtrak has informed town officials of their desire for an ADA-friendly station, and they have comprehensive plans for improving the station’s exterior. These include raising the platform and adding lighting and a sidewalk.
Town staff is working closely with Amtrak and the DOJ, Moreland said.
The station was built in 1915 and was used by the Boston & Maine and Central Vermont railroads until 1966, when the two railroads ended passenger service. The building was sold to the town and, after a narrow escape from plans to tear it down for a parking lot, it was reopened in 1972 as the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center.
The museum is still on the station’s upper floors, but when Amtrak restarted passenger service to Brattleboro in 1973, it took over the former baggage room on the ground floor to use as a waiting room for its daily Montreal-to-Washington, D.C., train, the Montrealer.
Because the town owns the building, it is responsible for interior work at the station, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.
Moreland requested the Board authorize $15,000 for technical assistance in designing a plan for Union Station that will address ADA compliance and other deficiencies at the facility.
He noted the town may not have to start from the beginning to develop plans for the station’s improvement.
In the early 2000s, the town began work on the Multi-Modal Transportation Project. It included work on a number of sites, such as the Transportation Center, Union Station, and the Whetstone Pathway, which connects the two.
Moreland characterized the Union Station improvement plans as “fairly comprehensive,” but they were scrapped due to cost overruns on other parts of the project.
Town staff can review the old plans to see if they adequately address the ADA needs. If they don’t, the designers can fill in the gaps, Moreland said, rather than starting from scratch.
The Board unanimously voted to authorize the expenditure. Selectboard Chair Kate O’Connor pointed out, “this isn’t something we’re going to do tomorrow."
Funding the design work is only the first step; according to the project’s timeline, the project will be finished in March 2020.