Amtrak changes its policy after receiving criticism from riders with disabilities

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NORMAL, Ill. — Amtrak riders with disabilities are criticizing the company for telling a group they would have to pay $25,000 to travel from Chicago to Normal.

Access Living, a service and advocacy group for people with disabilities, uses Amtrak to travel.

The group has an annual retreat in Normal, and for years they’ve been able to ride the train without any problems, that is until this year.

“When we saw that number in writing and had it confirmed, my first thought was, well that’s a new car,” said Adam Ballard, Amtrak passenger. “We did some research, and found out that would buy every seat on the train, and still have some leftovers.”

Ballard says he’s used the train for every trip access living takes and has never been charged more than the cost of a ticket. 

“Back then people didn’t really keep things in mind like, groups of people with disabilities traveling together,” he said. “Amtrak says ‘we are complying with the law’, and that might be very true in a narrow sense. We are definitely being discriminated against because a group of able-bodied folks traveling together on Amtrak would be a group discount.”

Amtrak trains have three cars, each with one seat for those in wheelchairs. The company told the Access Living group in order to accommodate all the passengers they would need to remove more seats. A process that costs Amtrak a lot of money.

“They haven’t adequately justified the cost,” said Bridget Hayman, Communications Director for Access Living. “They told us they had to take a train car out of service to reconfigure it, but of course they have just absorbed these costs in the past. We haven’t seen a line item budget of any kind saying what that cost is for.”

This news has gotten the attention of Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth, who is demanding she meets with the CEO of Amtrak to resolve this issue.

“A date for that isn’t set yet, and we haven’t heard where this policy stands,” said Hayman. Accommodating us today is not enough, we are deeply concerned about future trips.”

“We’ve reached out to Amtrak and in a statement, they said “After further review, Amtrak has determined to suspend the policy in question. It was never meant to be applied to this situation, and we apologize for that mistake. We are glad it has all worked out, and we were able to accommodate our customers’ trip.”

The company still plans to meet with Duckworth in the near future.

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