Happening Now

Amtrak Seeks ADA and Long-Distance Equipment Comments

August 7, 2023

by Rail Passengers Staff

Amtrak wants to change the way it complies with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements as it starts to accept potential designs for new long-distance trainsets, and opened a 30-day comment period for the public this afternoon.

We spoke briefly on Friday with Amtrak in a preview of this announcement. The driver for Amtrak’s pending request to the Federal Railroad Administration for a determination that it would give passengers the same or better access than the ADA standard – an FRA decision called an “Equivalent Facilitation” determination – is the potential to shift away from evaluating access for each individual railcar.

Today’s regulations are tailored around railcars, and Amtrak is considering long-distance designs that would include more trainsets, or cars that are semi-permanently coupled.

“Because of the unique nature of trainsets, Amtrak proposes that they should rightly be considered as a whole and not as the sum of their individual rail car parts,” Amtrak said today on its newly released comments website on the proposal. “In other words, the accessibility of a trainset should be viewed and considered when it is fully ‘assembled.’”

Amtrak says it can provide “a much more accessible and enjoyable” ride for customers with mobility issues if FRA permits their alternative design standard, which would require a minimum of as many accessible coach and sleeper spots as there are cars in the trainset.

“Instead of isolated accessible positions, Amtrak can provide accessible accommodations on the upper level of bi-level trains, with an accessible path connecting multiple seating spaces and restrooms, and access to the amenities that are central to Amtrak’s Long Distance journeys, such as dining cars, lounge cars, café cars, and the opportunity to take advantage of the expansive windows often provided on the upper level of bi-level train cars to enjoy the scenery,” Amtrak says. “Amtrak can also locate accessible positions in priority locations, closer to the dining and lounge cars, making it easier for customers with mobility disabilities to get to those amenities.”

We expect to learn more details this week. Rail Passengers President & CEO Jim Mathews has slated a meeting for tomorrow with Amtrak executives to learn more about the proposal and the process for including passenger feedback.

Meanwhile, the public comment period is open now and will remain open until September 5.

To offer your views follow this link to Amtrak’s Accessibility Project website. The website includes a detailed description of what Amtrak would like to do and why, as well as references to the existing law and standards. At the very bottom of the page there’s a feedback form where you can share your thoughts about the proposal.

There will also be an in-person public hearing on August 30 in Washington, DC, at the Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill, and interested parties can register to attend that meeting as well. The room is not large, however, and in-person registration is likely to be limited. The link to register for the in-person hearing is here, and there will also be a “virtual” Zoom attendance option for that public session as well. The link to register for the virtual version of that public meeting can be found here.