Happening Now

Amtrak Disabilities Bill Passes House

May 24, 2024

By Jim Mathews / President & CEO

The U.S. House on Tuesday passed a bipartisan bill offered by New York Republican Marc Molinaro aimed at ensuring Amtrak becomes fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA.

“Thirty years after the Americans with Disabilities Act passed, Amtrak still has work to do to become ADA compliant,” said Molinaro in a prepared statement. “My bipartisan bill forces their hand to ensure all trains and stations are accessible for individuals with disabilities. I’m grateful to have this bill pass the House with immense bipartisan support, bringing us one step closer to an inclusive and accessible environment for those of all abilities.”

Fourteen of the Molinaro bill’s co-sponsors were Democrats. The measure is now in the hands of the Senate Commerce Committee.

H.R. 6248, the Think Differently Transportation Act, requires Amtrak to publish an action plan in its annual report to Congress for bringing rail cars and stations into compliance with the ADA, which Amtrak already agreed to do in a 2020 settlement agreement the railroad reached with the Dept. of Justice.

Amtrak must also include a status report on ADA compliance at stations served by Amtrak, whether Amtrak is itself responsible for compliance at that station or not. If Amtrak isn’t responsible for a particular station, it must include in its report to Congress information on which entity holds responsibility for compliance at that station.

The report would be based on a station assessment either by Amtrak or the other responsible party, involving a review of all station components of a station, including the building, platform, path to train, and parking areas, as required by the U.S. Access Board.

Although Amtrak hasn’t included this sort of information specifically in its annual Legislative Report and Grant document for Congress, the railroad seems to have a head start on a lot of the Molinaro bill’s requirements. Amtrak’s leadership meets every quarter with disability community representatives and hosts ad hoc meetings, as needed, to respond to specific requests or concerns. In turn, managers responsible for Amtrak’s accessibility programs report out monthly to Amtrak’s executive leadership, as well as the DOT, FRA, and the DOJ, with progress reports on station renovations, modifications to rolling stock, policy changes, and customer service enhancements.

Moreover, Canada imposed some of the Molinaro bill’s requirements on Amtrak last year, and Amtrak filed an “action plan” with Canadian authorities on June 1, 2023. Amtrak owes a status report to the Canadians eight days from now.

A year ago, Amtrak told the Canadian government that under its Americans with Disabilities Act Stations Program (ADASP) – aimed at reaching compliance on station construction projects scheduled through 2029 and station design projects scheduled through 2026 – that as of April 2023 46% of the stations where Amtrak has some kind of responsibility were compliant, with 210 remaining.

The initial report to Canada also noted progress on installing new-design bridge plates to close the gap between railcars and the station platform at entry and exit doors. These designs add length, reduce slope, and incorporate new durable and lightweight materials. By April of last year, Amtrak had already completed deploying these new bridge plates – 330 of them – along the Northeast Corridor, with more planned on the NEC and at stations on the National Network with level-boarding platforms.

The Amtrak Accessible Boarding Technologies team was also working on redesigning straps and handles to make it easier for crews to deploy the plates when they’re needed. Amtrak is also doing more work to fabricate ramp-storage inserts on the Superliner II Sleeper Cars, as well as build and test prototypes of storage inserts for the remaining Superliner I and II Coach Cars and Surfliner Cars. Amtrak is also working with a manufacturer to update the design of the Downeaster bridge plates. All of that work is expected to be complete by September 2025.

Meanwhile, Amtrak’s Mechanical team last year began installing a newly designed accessible restroom in 23 Superliner I coach cars. Amtrak worked with representatives from the disability community, U.S. Access Board, and FRA to create this new accessible restroom design, and presented the car to those representatives last summer. Rollout of the new restroom designs will continue through the first quarter of Fiscal Year 2025, meaning this October through next January.

“Amtrak identified and is in the process of executing twelve (12) improvement efforts for more accessible rail cars. Examples include the addition of slip-resistant flooring, stair railings and handrails, folding tray tables, Superliner accessible bedroom handrail layout, evacuation chairs, Viewliner II sink extensions, compliant service counters, and attendant call buttons,” Amtrak reported. “All efforts are in progress, with the exception of the attendant call button in the accessible sleeper room, which is in research and development.”