AMTRAK and accessibility

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Date Joined Jun 2005
Total Posts : 2135
   Posted 6/28/2007 10:50 AM (GMT -6)   
You might have noticed that I've been gone for awhile...I went to a church conference in Portland, Oregon...
and travelled there alone, 2-1/2 days, on an AMTRAK train, from the middle of Wisconsin to Portland, over 2,000 miles.
I use a wheelchair.  I was nervous about the promises AMTRAK made on their website and by phone, as to the accessibility of their train..but they made good on those promises, and I thought I'd share my experiences, in case any of you are planning summer travel.
The train I took was the "Empire Builder" which travels from Chicago to Spokane, Washington..and then on to either Seattle or Portland, and if to Portland, then into California (I got off in Portland.)
I booked this trip early -- back in January -- to ensure that I could get the ONE handicap-accessible berth available on any one train.  The berth is at the end of the train car, and runs the width of the train, so there are windows on both sides, allowing great visibility.  There are two lounge chairs which fold down into a bed, and an upper berth (should you travel with a companion) that lowers down (obviously you need to be able to climb up a get to the top bunk, so I'd NOT recommend this if you have any balance problems!!)
The lounge chairs also recline partially, great for those afternoon naps...
Inside the berth is a toilet and a sink, so you don't have to try to walk down an aisle of a moving train to get to the facilities.  (If you DO wish to use the "regular" train facilities, they all have grab bars and hand rails, so if you do happen to be walking around the train, they would be available to you, too.) There are plenty of grab bars around the toilet (which you can close off with a curtain, if you want a bit of door, though..) and around the sink, and a grab bar by one of the two lounge chairs, which worked well to transfer from the chair to my wheelchair, and back.  And there is a sliding door (with a lock)which closes off your entire berth, so if you want to use your toilet in complete privacy, or otherwise spend private time, you can simply slide the door closed, lock it, and that's that! (And of course you'd close and lock the door when you're ready for bed at night.)
Depending on where you would board the train, there are ramps available to get you up into the train, and the aisle leading to the handicap berth are wide enough for an ordinary manual chair to traverse them easily. Obviously you need to let them know where you'll be boarding so that they'll be prepared with the ramp.  The train personnel are very helpful with getting you and your luggage on to the train.  You're allowed 2 carry-ons, not including your wheelchair, crutches, meds, etc. -- so quite a lot, much more than on a plane.  And no one asked me about contents of  my luggage, or whether I had meds (injectibles or otherwise), no one patted me down, no one asked if I could stand and pass through screening equipment (all of which happens in air travel these days!).  I just showed up at my station, the train arrived, 3 folks jumped off the train and one came out from the station, a ramp appeared off the train, they pushed me up, got my luggage, and we were on our way. Quick, easy, no delays, no questions asked.
Once on the train, I was pampered! :)  The train personnel brought meals on request, the same meals available to everyone else in the dining car -- I was given a menu, and could choose whatever I wanted. If you "buy" the berth seat, all meals and beverages (except alcohol) come with it!  If I wanted coffee or other stuff to drink during the day, all I had to do was call the attendant, and he/she would come, take my request, and fill it.  If I'd wanted alcoholic beverages I'd pay for them, and they'd get them and deliver them.  They delivered a newspaper each morning (I was on the train from a Sunday afternoon through Tuesday noon.) When I was ready for bed, they came in and made up the bed...and then turned everything back into lounge seats the next morning, when I asked them to.  And they'd stop by the berth a couple of times each day to ask if I wanted /needed anything.
There is room inside the berth to turn around in a wheelchair (I did take off the foot rests for a bit more room, but I could have left them on if I'd wanted.)
I took plenty of reading material with me (I'd highly recommend the book The Kite Runner, if you haven't already read it!), and there was plenty to see outside the windows, so I never felt particularly bored.  Sleeping on a train is a bit of a challenge -- noisy and bumpy -- but that would be true for anyone and had nothing to do with my disability.
Getting off the train was a simple reverse of the getting on process -- a ramp, 3-4 train attendants to help, they carried my luggage to a cab and made sure I could get in, and I was on my way.
So -- another reasonable travel alternative, so long as you book early! 
I had a great time, by the way! I'd never seen North Dakota, Montana or Oregon, so spent a lot of time glued to the window, watching the scenery!
...I am not a doctor, nor health professional, and don't pretend to be one, here.....

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Date Joined Jan 2007
Total Posts : 3571
   Posted 6/28/2007 12:05 PM (GMT -6)   

Hey Uppitycats,

This is a great thread!!  Thank you so much.  I loved reading about your trip.  It sounds like you had a great time.  I read the Kite Runner last summer and it is one of my all time favorite books.  I just got his other book, A Thousand Splendid Suns and can't get wait to get started on it.  Thanks again for an interesting post.

Love and prayers,


diagnosed: MS  July 2006
Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage. 
Anais Nin

Veteran Member

Date Joined Jun 2005
Total Posts : 1852
   Posted 6/28/2007 6:15 PM (GMT -6)   
Hi Uppity!
   Welcome back, I missed you!  Thanks for sharing your trip info with us.   I had no idea that travel by train was that elaborate for the disabled, definately more than I imagined it would be.  Very good info to know if the need ever arises as I don't think I could ever get my hubby on a plane ever!  Glad you had a good time and again welcome back!
Co-moderator for Multiple Sclerosis
Allow Healing Well to continue to help others, clink link for details

Regular Member

Date Joined Apr 2006
Total Posts : 299
   Posted 6/30/2007 1:02 AM (GMT -6)   

Sounds like a nice adventure, you are proof that MS doesn't need to stop you.

Welcome home!


Diagnosed with MS April 2006
Longstanding anxiety and depression
Currently on Betaseron

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