Rail relief areas


A short-haired woman in purple and a black and gray Standard Poodle service dog sit at a bench on a train platform and look to the right at a train that says "Amtrak California" on the side.

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March 3, 2020—Support train station improvements needed for service dog users by May 14, 2020!

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What’s going on now?

The US Access Board has issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) to update accessibility guidelines for rail travel. This government body wants feedback on what would enable people with disabilities to get around better using trains. The feedback will ultimately shape new Department of Transportation (DOT) policies.

If you want to see the report the Access Board is requesting comments on, visit the following link:

https://www.access-board.gov/guidelines-and-standards/transportation/vehicles/rail-vehicles-access-advisory-committee/final-report

The Access Board discusses the need for Service Animal Relief Areas (SARAs) for rail travel in Appendix B Section 4.

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What is PSDP doing?

With your help, we are encouraging the Access Board and DOT to require companies with long-distance intercity trains to provide service animal relief areas (SARAs), similar to the ones in airports. For many train routes, this doesn’t make sense for every stop. Instead, we’re advising that SARAs be at every platform that might be used for “smoke break” stops.

A short-haired woman in purple and a black and gray Standard Poodle service dog sit at a bench on an outdoor train platform. The dog looks into the distance to the right, beyond a train that says "Amtrak California" on the side, while the woman looks down at the dog and smiles lovingly.

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Why ask for relief areas for rail/train travel?

When traveling by rail, these “smoke breaks” are the only opportunities service animal users have to get off the train and let their dogs relieve themselves. However, a large portion of these stops are on separated concrete platforms where there is no appropriate area for the dog to relieve themselves.

As these stops usually last for less than 5 minutes, there is not enough time to leave the platform, go through the station, exit the station, let the animal eliminate, and then return. Trains do not wait! What’s more, sometimes the train has to leave before the passengers can leave the platform, and sometimes train personnel will not let continuing passengers leave the platform.

A short-haired woman sits on an Amtrak seat and smiles at the camera with a gray Standard Poodle in a vest lies at her feet, also looking at the camera.

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*How can I help?*

Please submit a comment at the following website and make your voice heard about the need for SARAs at every platform where there might be a “smoke break”. Remember that personal stories of difficulty, fear of, or the decision not to travel by train due to the lack of opportunities for your service animal to relieve themselves will be most persuasive.

https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=ATBCB-2020-0002

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What did PSDP say to the Access Board?

PSDP’s comment is below.

Psychiatric Service Dog Partners will expound on Appendix B, section 4. Service Animal spaces.

We encourage DOT to require companies that have long distance intercity trains to put Service Animal Relief Areas (SARAs), similar to the ones in airports, at every platform that might be used for “smoke break” stops.

When traveling by rail, these “smoke breaks” are the only opportunities service animal users have to get off the train and let their dogs relieve themselves. However a large portion of these stops are on separated concrete platforms where there is no appropriate area for the dog to relieve themselves.

As these stops usually last for less than 5 minutes, there is not enough time to leave the platform, transit the station, exit the station, let the animal eliminate, and then return. Additionally, train personnel will not allow passengers to leave the platform.

Personally, I have traveled from Charlotte, North Carolina to Penn Station in New York a few times with my service animal via train. The trip itself is scheduled to take 12–14 hours depending on which line I travel. Delays often add an hour or two to the trip. Although I take my service dog out to relieve herself at every available opportunity, since there is no appropriate place to eliminate she holds it 14+ hours for these trips.

I am lucky that my dog can hold it for this long. I know many people who have not been able to make long distance rail trips because there would be no way for their service dogs to relieve themselves.

A dedicated room is not required for a SARA. The Charlotte Douglas Airport in Charlotte, North Carolina has several SARAs that are appropriately 10’x10′ three-sided metal boxes with artificial turf inside. They are situated in out-of-the-way places around the terminal and require little infrastructure to operate.

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We have attached a picture of three service dogs of varying sizes (from 8 to 100 pounds) using the SARA in the Charlotte airport as an example. Image description: A small white and black dog wearing a galaxy themed vest poops in the large three sided metal box with artificial turf. In the middle of the box is a red fire hydrant. In the rear of the box, a medium sized black standard poodle with a pink vest sniffs the turf. Just to the right of the box, a large Great Pyrenees mix wearing a pink vest looks on. Each service dog is accompanied by their human handler.

Comment on ATBCB-2020-0002

Veronica Morris PhD