Transportation agency hears accessibility complaint against VIA

The Canadian Transportation Agency says it will issue a ruling soon after hearing arguments concerning the accessibility of new Via Rail passenger cars.

The Council of Canadians with Disabilities filed a formal complaint about the Renaissance rail cars, purchased for $130 million in 2000. The CCD says the cars don't meet Canadian requirements for accessibility.

"The exisiting VIA cars are far more superior than the Renaissance cars," argued David Baker of the council. "This is a removal of choice...the denial of freedom to travel."

He said the widths are 18 inches (45 cm) narrower than the doorways on any trains in North America.

The 139 Nightstock cars were purchased from Alstrom, a French company, which built the cars for use in the Chunnel the tunnel between England and France.

VIA Rail has argued the CTA has no jurisdiction on the matter.

John Campion, lawyer for VIA, said the new cars do meet Canadian standards and were purchased under tight budget restrictions.

"It was the most inexpensive purchase of rail cars,"said Campion. "They may not be perfect for all people."

He added VIA Rail isn't expected to accommodate special needs on every train. Campion says the council has asked for alterations that would cost millions and would be enormously complicated.

"It would bankrupt the country."

Baker countered and said the new cars would deny people with wheelchairs any access.

"They are clearly obstacles. Those are issues that fall to the (CTA)," said Baker.