Over the last 12 years, Amtrak said it has invested $770 million to improve accessibility across its national passenger rail system to “ensure a safe, efficient, and comfortable travel experience” for customers with disabilities.
[Above photo by Mike Armstrong for Amtrak]
Those improvements include repairs and upgrades to platforms, ramps and sidewalks – as well as renovations to entranceways and restrooms – and Amtrak hopes to have all such accessibly upgrades to its national network completed by 2029.
Amtrak is highlighting all the work it has done in this area in part to mark the 33rd anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act – historic legislation that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said established protections people with disabilities from discrimination by state and local governments and employers as well as ensuring “equal access” to healthcare, social services, transportation, telecommunications, and other critical services.
Amtrak noted that its planned and ongoing accessibly projects include:
- Bringing stations elements including parking, station building and platforms into compliance through a comprehensive multi-year, multi-billion dollar design and construction program providing an accessible and compliant passenger experience. To date, Amtrak has brought 117 stations into compliance and another 67 stations have been made accessible.
- Amtrak has identified another 39 stations for completion this fiscal year at a forecasted investment of $140 million.
- Designing and deploying assistive boarding equipment, including bridge plates, to help customers with reduced mobility board and depart from the train.
- Displaying audio and visual train status and boarding information through passenger information display systems at stations.
Amtrak added that the new Acela and Airo trains – scheduled to go into service in 2026 – will offer a customer information system that provides real-time information such as train location, train speed, and conductor announcements in audio and visual formats.
Those new trains will also feature “spacious and accessible” restrooms, vestibules, and Café Cars with integrated boarding equipment for customers with reduced mobility.
Accessibility improvements across all fleets include adding handrails to Superliner accessible bedrooms, stair handrails, folding tray tables at accessible seating areas, slip-resistant vestibule flooring, and compliant service counters in Café Cars, the company noted.
“These investments benefit all of our customers by improving the travel experience at every aspect of the journey from trip planning, to purchasing tickets, to using our stations, trains and services,” Amtrak President Roger Harris noted in a statement.
Earlier this year, he explained at the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Council on Rail Transportation 2023 Winter Meeting in Washington, D.C., that growing demand and ongoing support from state department of transportation partners is making these kinds of accessibility upgrades possible.
“As we stand here today, we are entering a much more exciting time for Amtrak and for passenger rail,” he said at that meeting – adding that, in 2022, Amtrak logged seven million new riders, which he called “an incredible marker for the growth of our business.”
However, Harris stressed that what is different going forward in light of the added funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and how it is enhancing the partnerships Amtrak has with state transportation agencies.
“That’s where the real transformation is occurring,” he explained – especially through expanded services via though the “Amtrak Connects US” plan in partnership with the states that Amtrak unveiled in May 2021. “It is allowing us to open things up and think about new services,” Harris said.