(99) Attention Disabled Veterans: Don’t Take the Train!

Molly, the service dog

Golly, Miss Molly

A Blog about a Service Dog and her Veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the Veteran and the Family Caregiver)

Our summer vacation with Miss Molly presented interesting obstacles with her size. Many of our desired eating places were so small that her caboose would have protruded outside the door. We stay away from such places since trying to squeeze her inside would create problems for patrons, Molly, the owner, and us. Could you imagine the problems we would encounter with her size if we traveled by train?

Actually, Molly and William are not the only Veteran/Service Dog team, who would be left behind. Of the 482 stations serviced by Amtrak, only 48 met ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) standards. While Amtrak is responsible for only 376 of these stations, only 18 of its stations met ADA requirements by April 1 of this year—25 years after our country adopted ADA. Amtrak repeatedly failed to comply, even with deadlines and extensions for compliance.

On June 9, the Department of Justice (DOJ) publicly released its notice of non-compliance sent to Joseph Boardman, the CEO of Amtrak. The notice stated that Amtrak failed to meet multiple deadlines to bring intercity stations, parking, and other facilities into compliance with ADA. Amtrak misreported progress by claiming certain stations remained exempt from ADA by distorting facts about ridership. The company blamed federal Department of Transportation regulations for some of its failures to comply.

Examining over 5,000 pages of data submitted by Amtrak, it appeared the company could not account for all of its stations. It cited the cost of compliance at over $2 billion. The DOJ examined a 153-page spreadsheet of disability access complaints recorded by Amtrak. Complaints reported included no lifts to get passengers with wheelchairs on board, no wheelchair accessible restrooms, lack of signage, ticket counters and other facilities too high, no handicapped parking, and even cases where the wheelchair ramps projected into traffic lanes.

The DOJ notice of remedial action requires Amtrak to make all applicable stations compliant, which includes ensuring proper access for service animals. It must also educate employees on the requirements of ADA, hold employees accountable for non-compliance, and pay compensatory damages to individuals for injuries caused by Amtrak’s failures. The DOJ indicated it will seek litigation to remedy Amtrak’s refusal to comply. The clock started ticking on Amtrak’s response on June 9 with 14 days to respond.

Given that 25 years failed to produce much of any result, a 14-day response period extended to Amtrak to assure the DOJ that it will cooperate seems far too long a time period. After all, Amtrak reported directly to Congress on multiple occasions to assure our elected officials of satisfactory progress when none was made. I’d say the train definitely left the station on this one—and Amtrak missed the train!

When I discussed this matter with Miss Molly, she sniffed and pawed over her head in disbelief. Her only comment was, “Golly.”

Post your Comments: 

Have you even taken or tried to take an Amtrak train and encountered access issues with your disability? Please reply below. 

About the blogger 

Dr. Penelope “Penny” Culbreth-Graft is a retired city manager and graduate professor. She lives with her disabled Vietnam Veteran husband, William, and his service dog, Molly, on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. She writes, paints, cares for her husband, and spends time with her granddaughter.