Amtrak has backtracked after telling two wheelchair users they needed to pay $25,000 for a two-hour train ride that normally costs $16 per ticket. NPR first reported on the fee applied to employees of Access Living, a disability service and advocacy center, who hoped to travel from Chicago to Bloomington, Ill., for a conference. Ten employees hoped to travel on the same train, including five who use wheelchairs. But the train could accommodate only one wheelchair in each of its three cars. Amtrak therefore notified Access Living that a $25,000 charge would apply to remove seats from a train car. "I could buy a car for that," one flabbergasted employee told NBC Chicago, noting Amtrak made such adjustments for only a few hundred dollars in the past. Amtrak countered that its policy changed last year.
That drew a rebuke from Sen. Tammy Duckworth, the ranking member on the Senate subcommittee on transportation and safety, who also uses a wheelchair. "I will be requesting that Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson meet with me 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," she said Sunday, describing the fee as "outrageous." By Monday, Amtrak said it had found space for the employees—who said taking a different train would mean arriving late or too early, with the added cost of a hotel stay—as well as two other wheelchair users who plan to attend the conference. "We apologize for their inconvenience," the service said, per the Washington Post, adding it would review its policy and accept Duckworth's invitation. (Read more Amtrak stories.)