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Plasan Carbon Composites (PCC) has been awarded a contract to produce the first composite ramps and bridgeplates for Amtrak.
The units, which are part of Amtrak’s Accessible Boarding Technologies (ABT) Programme, help make it easier for passengers with disabilities, the elderly, as well as those pushing strollers or pulling luggage, to embark and disembark from trains, providing as close to independent access as possible at all available railcars along a platform. The initial order of 190 composite ramps and bridgeplates will be deployed at various Amtrak locations and on various railcars and will be followed by further distribution throughout the Amtrak system.
Under the guidance of Gary Talbot, Amtrak Programme Director-ADA, the company currently is in the process of redesigning and rebuilding platforms, station structures and parking lots at many stations throughout its North American network to ensure they comply with the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. One area of focus is developing lighter and better designed ABTs – specifically bridgeplates and ramps.
Between any passenger platform and the trains that pass it, a gap is left to provide safe clearance during normal train operations. Gap dimensions (defined as the horizontal and vertical distance between platform and railcar) are designed based on minimum industry standards as well as clearance requirements for the types of trains operating adjacent to a platform. Platforms at stations with passenger-only trains typically have smaller gaps than those with shared-use (passenger-plus-freight) trains. Ambulatory passengers are reminded to ‘mind the gap’ and step over the 3.0-10 inch (7.6-25 cm) horizontal gap and approximately 3.0 inch (7.6 cm) vertical gap between train and platform during entry/exit. At some stations, however, gaps between train cars and platforms can be larger and that can make it difficult for passengers using wheeled mobility devices to span the gap even when a bridgeplate (used for level boarding) or a ramp (used for uneven/bi-level boarding or for shared-use platforms) is installed. Bridgeplates and ramps are typically made of aluminium and can weigh as much as 34 lb (15 kg) for a small bridgeplate and 87 lb (40 kg) for a short ramp without handrails. Bridgeplates are stored at stations and used at passenger-only platforms, whereas ramps are stored on trains and used on shared-use platforms.
Initially, Amtrak developed its own prototype tooling and units, which were produced by RLE International. The goal was to increase passenger accessibility and to reduce weight so these ABT devices were easier for employees to carry and deploy/remove. Next, Amtrak sought bids from companies thought capable of optimising the design, as well as moulding, assembling and finishing production units. The plan required the manufacturer to produce assembled carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) bridgeplates in two styles – Acela and Regional – that weighed no more than 20 lb (9.1 kg) each and accommodated two different door-opening widths. The plan also called for production and assembly of telescoping ramps with integrated folding handrails in two styles – Superliner (with metal hooks) and Surfliner (with CFRP hooks) – that weighed no more than 55 lb (25 kg) each and that accommodated two different attachment methods to trains.
As part of the qualification process, prototype units of both bridgeplates and ramps were required to pass tests including an 800 lb (363 kg) service load capacity and a three times safety factor of 2,400 lb (1,089 kg) ultimate strength. Additionally, each item was required to be warranted by the manufacturer against defects and/or premature failure for a service period of not less than 12 months from the date of field deployment into Amtrak revenue service and to include a maintenance contract to inspect and refurbish units that might need repainting or other repairs.
Plasan was chosen to produce the new Amtrak carbon composite bridgeplates and ramps. Amtrak provided technical specifications for the ABT units, and Plasan provided technical expertise in carbon composite manufacturing, engineering support, and finite element analysis to optimise part strength and mass.
As designed, both bridgeplate models consist of five carbon fibre reinforced epoxy prepreg components with honeycomb and foam cores: a base plate, two fins, and two gussets that are bonded together with a structural epoxy adhesive. Finished telescoping ramps consist of five carbon fibre/epoxy components: upper and lower carriers, a slider section, and two single-piece handrails attached to the upper carrier.
Additional hardware allows the handrails to open into position during use and fold back for stowage; stainless grades were used to increase corrosion resistance.
All carbon composite components will be produced via vacuum bag/autoclave cure with additional inflatable bladders used to produce the hollow handrails. After demoulding, handrails will be attached to the ramp’s upper carrier via hinges. Next, both bridgeplates and ramps will be painted and received a scratch- and chip-resistant top coat and decals, as well as a non-slip surface, which will be added to the base. In the event units become damaged during use, Plasan will non-destructively scan them to determine if they can be repaired or need to be replaced. For units requiring minor repairs, CFRP patch kits will be used.
Image provided by Amtrak
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