As I prepared for a trip to Washington, D.C. from my home on Long Island, NY, I debated which method of travel would be the least stressful. It didn’t make much sense to go through the trouble of taking a plane ride when the flight would be less than two hours. Plus, the thought of being separated from my wheelchair to board the plane makes me anxious, since you never know what could happen once it becomes just another piece of luggage in the cargo. So, I decided to try taking Amtrak for the first time, and I’m incredibly glad I did.
My journey began by taking a Long Island Railroad train to Pennsylvania Station, and then heading up in an elevator to the Amtrak level. Because I was traveling alone, I did feel a bit worried about how the process of boarding the train would go, but since I had already selected the option to request assistance while purchasing my ticket, I was hopeful the process would be simple. As it happened, I definitely didn’t have to worry. Once I found my gate, I spoke to an Amtrak employee who pointed me to a group of Red Caps, the Amtrak assistance team. Let me tell you, they’re an absolute godsend.
I was paired with a Red Cap who carried my luggage and accompanied me to my train. He made sure to I knew I had the option to sit in a Quiet Car (think library silence), which I greatly appreciated. Then, he set out a bridge plate so I could roll onto the train, and once on board, he helped me get settled.
The train itself, an Acela Express, was impressively accessible for me. There was a spacious area for me to sit in my wheelchair, but you have the option to transfer if you want and keep the wheelchair near you. The open space included an accessible table surface and it was situated across from a regular passenger seat. I appreciated this, because when taking other means of transportation such as buses, wheelchair spaces are usually isolated in the back or the front, facing away from other passengers. I was also glad to see that wheelchair tie-downs were available, should a passenger who uses a wheelchair want some extra security.
There was a designated accessible restroom on the train and it was large enough for my power wheelchair to fit inside. I noticed there was extra room, enough for a personal care attendant or travel companion, if you need assistance. There were ample grab rails, but let me just warn you: transferring from wheelchair to toilet and using the bathroom while on a moving train felt like a bit of a circus balancing act or amusement park ride. If you choose to go to the bathroom, be careful!
Bathroom adventures aside, my trip went well. On the way to D.C., I had to ask a conductor to make sure a red cap would meet me to assist me off the train, but on the way home, the conductor took care of it before I asked. Even so, I recommend always advocating for your assistance needs to avoid any troubles. I was happy that getting off the train when I arrived at my destination was just as uncomplicated as boarding.
The process of taking Amtrak proved to be equally as simple for my return trip, which I was especially appreciative of after a busy, tiring stay in D.C. Unfortunately, once back in Penn Station, I encountered two broken elevators, but the Red Cap assisting me knew an alternate route to help me upstairs and didn’t leave me until I assured her I was able to carry my own luggage the rest of the way through the train station. While broken elevators happen, I was glad to know I had someone assisting me in solving the problem.
Getting where I needed to go without running into access issues was incredibly rewarding. As a wheelchair user who loves to travel but hates dealing with challenging travel plans, I’ll be using Amtrak whenever I can, and based on my experience, I’m confident in recommending it as a convenient means of travel for all wheelchair users.