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Amtrak agrees to fix stations and pay $2.25 million to settle ADA discrimination claims

Commuters head toward the Acela for their morning commute northbound in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 19, 2019.
Commuters head toward the Acela for their morning commute northbound in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 19, 2019. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

Amtrak has agreed to pay $2.25 million to settle civil claims that it discriminated against disabled passengers by failing to accommodate people in wheelchairs or with limited mobility at its stations.

The passenger railroad has also agreed to fix dozens of stations in the next decade to ensure compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act, according to the terms of the settlement announced Wednesday afternoon.

The agreement follows a years-long investigation by the U.S. Justice Department into claims it received in 2011, 2012 and 2013, from passengers with disabilities and several organizations, that some Amtrak stations don’t accommodate wheelchair users or people with limited mobility, in violation of the ADA.

Amtrak had 20 years from the law’s 1990 enactment to make its stations accessible, but failed to comply by the July 26, 2010, deadline, according to the complaint filed Wednesday. The company has violated the ADA by failing “to make its stations readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities, including those who use wheelchairs,” the complaint states.

Two people in wheelchairs wanted to buy a train ticket. Amtrak tried to charge them $25,000.

“Amtrak failed or refused to comply with the Congressionally-mandated 2010 deadline, and Amtrak’s noncompliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act injured individuals with disabilities,” Eric Dreiband, assistant attorney general of the civil rights division, said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.

“Passengers with disabilities have waited long enough,” he said. “Today’s agreement is a historic victory for individuals with disabilities, Amtrak, the rule of law, and the promise of equal opportunity for all Americans.”

Amtrak has agreed to make its rail stations accessible, prioritizing stations with the most accessibility challenges. The company will complete accessibility improvements at 90 stations within the next decade, and begin construction to make another 45 stations accessible within the decade.

Among the stations identified as having “significant known or potential accessibility deficiencies” by the Justice Department are Ashland, Va., Newark and North Philadelphia.

Some stations lack ramps and platforms wide enough to allow passage of people using wheelchairs. In some, trains can only be boarded by climbing stairs, making it impossible for people with limited mobility to travel.

Under the agreement, the railroad will also create an office to coordinate compliance with the ADA.

A $2.25 million settlement fund will be used to compensate people with mobility impairments who have been affected by the railroad’s failure to provide accessible facilities, including those who were unable to travel from stations with significant accessibility issues.

Amtrak said in a statement that the settlement builds upon ongoing ADA compliance efforts.

“Not just architectural compliance at stations, but also training for employees, effective oversight by [the Federal Railroad Administration] and Amtrak executives, and compensation for certain passengers who may have been harmed by noncompliance at certain stations,” the company said.

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The company said it has been “advancing efforts to make stations universally accessible,” including spending $109 million on ADA-related projects at more than 159 locations in the last fiscal year.

Information about eligibility for compensation will be available on Amtrak’s website by the end of the month, the company said.

Curt Decker, executive director of the National Disability Rights Network, which filed a complaint with the Justice Department against Amtrak in 2013, said the group welcomes the settlement but remains concerned about the pace at which the railroad is making progress.

“After more than three decades since the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act, Amtrak has yet to bring its stations into compliance with the law,” Decker said. “We appreciate the progress Amtrak has made but hope that this agreement will better ensure that Amtrak quickly meets all its obligations under the law.”

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