The Washington Post

Report: Many Amtrak stations not fully accessible to people with disabilities

Many of the nation’s Amtrak stations remain difficult to navigate for people with disabilities, and some have “major barriers” that deter them from using the rail system, according to a new report by the National Disability Rights Network.

The group inspected 94 stations in 25 states and the District of Columbia, and found accessibility problems in 89 of the stations, including Union Station, which is the second busiest train stop in the system.

Disabled riders found stairways with no ramp or elevator alternatives, restrooms too narrow for people in wheelchairs, and ticket counters too high for people using wheelchairs. They also found parking lots with poorly marked spaces and platforms not level with the trains.

“There is a variety of problems. Some of them are minor that could have been fixed quickly without a whole lot of expense. Some of them are more difficult,” said Curtis Decker,  executive director of the national nonprofit, which provides advocacy services for the disabled.

Passengers with disabilities represent a growing share of Amtrak ridership, according to Amtrak. The ridership among passengers with disabilities grew by 20 percent in fiscal year 2013 when compared to the previous year, according to the agency.

Amtrak spokesman Steve Kulm said Wednesday the efforts to improve the experience of passengers with disabilities are ongoing. Amtrak has improved accessibility at more than 200 stations in the past four years, including repairs and upgrades to platforms, ramps and sidewalks and restrooms, according to the agency.

Every Amtrak train has accessible seating and restrooms and the long-distance trains have accessible bedrooms, the agency said in a July statement for the 23 anniversary of Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Every day we are taking action to advance our station accessibility improvement program,” Kulm said in an e-mail.

Amtrak said one of the challenges to making stations more accessible is that Amtrak owns only a small percentage of the nearly 500 stations that are required to be ADA compliant. The agency says it is working with owners to make greater progress.

In the assessment by the disability group, Union Station fared well when compared to other sites. The station is mostly accessible, but the group found that one platform serving trains going to southern destinations, lack an elevator.

Passengers with disabilities using those tracks “must wait for carts operated by Amtrak personnel that take a circuitous route out along uncovered portions of the platforms and crossing tracks to get to and from the station,” the report says.

Decker said his organization has shared the group’s finding with Amtrak and the Justice Department. The Network has been working with Amtrak for the past four years to raise issues of accessibility.

“We are hoping that the report will get the attention of Congress and the Department of Justice to put pressure and get some concrete commitment from Amtrak to fix these problems,” he said.

Luz Lazo writes about transportation and development. She has recently written about the challenges of bus commuting, Metro’s dark stations, and the impact of sequestration on air travel.

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