Investigation finds that many Amtrak stations are “shockingly” inaccessible

The National Disability Rights Network released the results of an extensive investigation into Amtrak on October 16, finding that 95 percent of the stations contain one or more architectural barriers to people with disabilities.

Photo of front of an Amtrak train.
People with disabilities not welcome here!

For the report, titled “All Aboard (Except People with Disabilities),” the NDRN reviewed 94 stations in 25 states and the District of Columbia this past July and August.

Many of the stations lacked stairways with no ramps or elevators. Therefore people using wheelchairs and people with other mobility disabilities at these stations are forced to wait for carts to take them to their various platforms. Even at Washington D.C.’s Union Station, the nation’s second-busiest Amtrak station, a platform for southbound trains lacked an elevator.

Other stations contain restrictively narrow restrooms, ticket counters that are too high and platforms that are not level with the trains, making them both inaccessible and highly dangerous for people with disabilities. Some of the stations lack visual displays, making them inaccessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

“Our reviews show that Amtrak’s negligence goes beyond simply ignoring the Americans with Disabilities Act, but demonstrates a deliberate disregard for passengers with disabilities,” said Curt Decker, NDRN’s executive director, in a news release. 
“Amtrak was given 20 years to come into compliance with the ADA because it was understood the time and resources required to update the system were extensive.

“But here we are 23 years later and not only has Amtrak ignored the larger architectural barriers, they have not even addressed easily fixed issues like the restrooms. If you are a person with a disability who wishes to travel on Amtrak, the message is pretty clear: you are not welcome here.”

Early versions of the ADA in Congress would have required the National Passenger Railroad Corporation to make all Amtrak stations accessible within 3 years. Later versions would have required a 3-year deadline for the most heavily used stations and a 20-year deadline for other stations.

Congress eventually compromised and gave Amtrak a blanket 20-year deadline, which it has fallen woefully short of meeting.

“Transportation is the linchpin of community integration,” the report states. “Without it, many people with disabilities cannot go to work, go shopping, visit their friends and family, or accomplish many of the day-to- day tasks necessary to live in the community… Although Amtrak has repeatedly said that they are moving toward accessibility, this report shows that progress has been uneven, spotty, and in some cases non-existent.”

Having reported the violations to the Departments of Justice and Transportation, NDRN is urging them to work with Amtrak to make the stations ADA-compliant.

Disability Rights Washington, the publisher of Galaxy, is part of the federally funded protection and advocacy system and a member of the National Disability Rights Network.