The Americans with Disabilities Act, passed 25 years ago, gave Amtrak 20 years to make its stations accessible. Now it’s five years past that deadline, and nearly 500 Amtrak stations across the country aren’t yet accessible. However, Amtrak is committing resources to make its stations more friendly to wheelchair users. For example, this spring, the Fargo, N.D., Amtrak station will receive $1.3 million in upgrades to its parking lot, ticket counter, platform, doorways, bathrooms, water fountain and other areas.
“Things are moving in the right direction, but the reality is that Amtrak did little with the 25 years they’ve had,” says Kenneth Shiotani, a senior attorney with the National Disability Rights Network. His organization is the major watchdog, ensuring Amtrak takes accessibility seriously. “Our organization is in the middle of a major push to get the Federal Railroad Administration to look at Amtrak’s spending on ADA issues right away, and the Department of Justice is now trying to negotiate a consent decree.” See the DOJ’s Letter of Finding here.
One reason for the delay is that some of the stations are owned by Amtrak, some are leased from the freight railroads and some are owned by local governments. “It’s complicated and it was somewhat complicated when the ADA was passed because all of these were properties of the former railroads,” says Shiotani. Prior to the Rail Passenger Service Act of 1970, the nation was served by a hodge-podge of private railroads.