Metro to retro-fit 7000-series railcars to prevent visually-impaired
riders from falling between them
A train prepares to depart from Pentagon Metro station. (Photo by Matt
McClain/ The Washington Post)

After a series of safety concerns, Metro will pay to retrofit nearly
200 of the system’s brand-new 7000-series railcars with chain barriers
to help prevent people with impaired vision from falling between cars.

The decision, first reported by WAMU, came after concerns were raised
by the Federal Transit Administration about the safety of the new
design — and after a blind passenger reported plummeting into the gap
while trying to board a Red Line train.

Currently, some of the gaps between the new railcars are equipped with
rubber barriers — a change in design from what had been used on
previous train models. For the 1000-6000 series trains, all of the
gaps feature a pair of chains clipped to the car on either side, meant
to alert a person waving a hand or a cane that they should not move

But the rubber barricades on the 7000-series cars are set further back
from the platform, and there are nine inches of space in the middle,
between each side of the barrier — enough space that a blind person
brandishing a cane in front of them might fail to realize that the gap
isn’t a doorway.

 [Metro’s 7000-series rail cars make eagerly awaited debut on Blue Line]

Metro officials say the rubber barricade is compliant with federal
disabilities regulations, but they decided to conduct further tests on
the effectiveness of the new barriers after the FTA sent a letter in
June that bolstered the concerns of advocates for people with
disabilities and requested further analysis.

“While the analysis concluded that the existing style of the
between-car barriers are safe and detectableMetro has decided to
standardize the 7000-series fleet to use the same chain barriers that
are found on the legacy fleet,”  Metro spokeswoman Morgan Dye said.

Dye said that Metro officials have already alerted the railcar
manufacturer, Kawasaki, to begin installing the chain barriers on all
future railcars delivered to the system. But Metro will have to pay to
retrofit all of the cars currently in the system — 192, as of early
September— and the process will take until the end of 2017, Dye said.

She did not say how much the retrofit would cost.

 [Delivery of Metro’s new 7000-series rail cars back on track]

The risks of the rubber barriers became clear in July, when D.C.
resident David Kosub tried to board a train at Grosvenor station.
Kosub recounted his experience to WAMU:

“It felt normal. I put out my hand on the train itself, took a step
and fell literally in the gap that I thought was the entrance into the
train,” said Kosub. “But it was the gap between two train cars that
was a perfect, David-sized hole.”

Tall and thin, Kosub suddenly found himself beneath the platform and
in between two loud, massive machines, he said. Although it was during
the middle of the day, the Red Line rider said no one saw him fall or
heard him scream for help. He feared the train would start moving any
second, crushing him.

“This was the closest I have ever been to feeling like I was going to
die. And I have been in some harrowing accidents before but never one
where I found myself that close,” he said.

Kosub said he placed his hands on the platform and pulled himself up
and off the track bed just before the train departed. He was not
injured, and two Metro station personnel helped him retrieve his cane
from the tracks, he said.

But the risk of visually-impaired riders falling between railcars has
come up before — and it took years of advocacy work before Metro began
putting devices in place to help prevent tragedies from happening.

A blind man was killed when he fell between two railcars and onto the
tracks at Court House station in July 1990.

In July 1990, a 69-year-old blind man died when he fell between two
cars at Court House Metro station; the operator failed to notice the
passengers yelling and screaming as she closed the train’s doors and
pulled away from the station.

A jury later ordered Metro to pay the man’s family more than $500,000
in damages.

In October 1997, a 56-year-old man with poor eyesight stepped into the
gap between railcars, and fell underneath the train. No one saw him
fall, and the train moved off, crushing the man.

At the time of his death, the Washington Post reported that the issue
was becoming an increasing concern:

Brown’s death was Metro’s third fatality involving a visually impaired
rider who had fallen between rail cars, and it points to the
challenges that disabled riders face in riding the system.

Many cues that are provided for Metro’s 2,500 blind riders, such as
the granite platform edges or the bumpy tiles that the transit agency
plans to install along platforms to mark danger, don’t help visually
impaired riders distinguish between open doors and the gaps between

“It’s a problem that Metro has acknowledged,” said Julie Carroll, a
lobbyist for the American Council of the Blind. “We have asked for
some sort of barrier between the cars, chains, or some kind of
accordion barrier so you wouldn’t be able to fall through between the

Nearly 100 new rail cars that should be in service by the end of the
decade will have such barriers, according to Metro spokeswoman Leona
Agouridis. The barriers are required on new cars under federal law.

In February 1997, a man hurrying to board a train at Van Dorn during
the morning rush hour fell between the two cars and onto the tracks.

“He swung his stick where the cars are attached and took a step,
thinking it was the door,” Stephanie Ford, a passenger on the train,
told the Post at the time. “He bumped up against the car I was in as
he fell, and I could see him on the track.”

He was rescued by the train operator and several passengers, who
lifted him out of the gap and onto the platform without injury.

 [For Metro riders with disabilities, safety concerns and SafeTrack
cause growing dread]

In addition to adding chains between train cars in the 1990s, Metro
took other steps to try to prevent similar incidents — including
broadcasting announcements from the doorways of the trains, indicating
to people with disabilities that it was safe to enter and giving them
an audio cue of where the doors were located.

Up until that point, Metro’s tr

Avinash Shahi
Doctoral student at Centre for Law and Governance JNU

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