Pat Danfroth of the Council of Canadians in the Supreme Court of Canada lobby after victory over Via Rail
The Supreme Court of Canada has upheld a decision by federal regulators that will force VIA Rail to make their passenger rail cars more wheelchair accessible. CTV News
“Basically the judges have upheld the right of the Canadian Transportation Agency to order VIA Rail to make changes to accommodate disabled people, specifically those in wheelchairs, on their fleet of (French-built) Renaissance cars,” CTV’s Roger Smith said from the SCC.
“That means VIA rail will have to make changes on 40 of the 139 cars to ensure that there’s at least one car that can accommodate disabled people on each train.”
The judges ruled 5-4 in favour of the changes.
The Crown rail corporation said the ruling will cost them between $48 million to $92 million.
In 2003, the transportation agency called for upgrades on the cars including better bedroom and washroom access and expanded tie-down areas for wheelchairs.
In 2005, a Federal Court ruled that VIA Rail did not have to make the upgrades to the cars.
But the decision was appealed by the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, who have been fighting for the changes since 2000.
The cars are used in the busy Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal corridor and on routes between Montreal and the Maritimes.
“I’ve been on those cars and the difficulty with them is that they’re very narrow trains,” council member Pat Danforth told Canada AM. “The door widths are not wide enough to accommodate a standard wheelchair.
“As well there’s not enough room to allow for a standard wheelchair to be tied down on the rail cars.”
Danforth said the washrooms are also too small to accommodate a standard wheelchair.
Lawyer David Baker said Canadian standards are far behind U.S. regulations.
“There’s not a single wheelchair accessible rail car in the country at the present time,” said Baker. “In the United States there is not a single rail car that is not wheelchair accessible.”
Advocates say the ruling could be key in establishing a legal precedent in other areas like airline and bus services.
VIA has argued that incidents where a disabled person has encountered an obstacle on their passenger cars is rare.