Amtrak asks passengers in wheelchairs to pay $25,000 for trip in Illinois

Action draws outrage of U.S. senator, who requests meeting with CEO Anderson
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An Amtrak Lincoln Service train passes through Lemont, Ill., in January 2018. Amtrak has told two passengers who use wheelcharis that wanted to use the train between Chicago and Bloomington, Ill., that it would cost $25,000 to accommodate them.
TRAINS: David Lassen

CHICAGO — Amtrak told two people who use wheelchairs that their proposed trip from Chicago to Bloomington, Ill. — a 124-mile trip normally requiring a $16 ticket — would cost $25,000, a move that has a senator from Illinois asking for a meeting with the passenger carrier’s CEO.

National Public Radio was first to report the case of a group from Access Living, a Chicago disability service and advocacy center that wanted to take a group of 10 — five using wheelchairs — to a work retreat in Bloomington this week. The Lincoln Service train usually has three coaches, each of which can accommodate one patron in a wheelchair; Access Living’s Adam Ballard, one of the wheelchair users, told NPR that in the past, with advance notice, Amtrak has accommodated the group by removing seats or seating them in the dining car and charging a few hundred extra.

This time, Ballard told NPR, an Amtrak group sales agent wrote to say the cost of removing seats to accommodate the extra chairs would be over $25,000, citing a new policy regarding the cost of removing seats. Amtrak reiterated that comment in a statement to NPR, saying the charges were part of a policy to charge “an additional fee when any group requires reconfiguration of our railcars.” It suggested splitting the group onto two trains operating about three hours apart so no reconfiguration would be necessary.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth — who lost both legs serving in the U.S. Army in Iraq and is the first disabled woman elected to Congress — called Amtrak’s stance “outrageous” in a statement on her Twitter account, and said it was “disappointing that Amtrak leadership appears to have failed to offer a public apology for its initial mistake.”

Duckworth, ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Transportation, said she will request a meeting with Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson “to discuss eliminating Amtrak’s nationwide policy of refusing to absorb any costs associated with reconfiguring a railcar to accommodate a group of wheelchair users.”

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