This past Christmas my fiancé and I got my in-laws tickets to see Hamilton in New York City. Since we live in Rochester, we had a few options on how to get to the city. We could drive, we could fly, or we could take the train. Driving would take about 7-9 hours depending on how many bathroom breaks and food stops we made. Flying would take less time but would definitely be pricier and riskier for the safety of our wheelchairs. Taking the train would be about 7 hours and cost the same or less than driving, depending on the price of the lot we parked in if we drove.
In the end, we opted to take the train because the price was similar to driving, but the convenience is much better. I like the train because there is WiFi (though it can be spotty) so I am able to work on the train in a way that I can’t when I am in a car. There is a bathroom right next to the accessible seating so I can get up and go anytime I need to without delaying our trip. And, I do not have to worry about driving in Manhattan – and boy do I hate driving in Manhattan!
I have taken Amtrak many times for work and leisure, and I can say it’s improved quite a bit in accessibility over the years. Many stations now have platforms that are level with the train, which means that to get on the train, wheelchair users only need a bridge plate – a metal ramp that covers the gap between the platform and the train – in order to board. Though, there are some stations where a lift is still required and people who work for Amtrak known as “Red Caps” assist with that in order to allow you to board with as little inconvenience as possible.
The train cars have wheelchair accessible areas that are located near the accessible bathrooms. In these accessible areas you can either stay in your wheelchair or you can park your wheelchair and transfer to a train seat. The wheelchair accessible bathrooms allow for enough room for a power wheelchair to roll into them and slide the door shut. Additionally, there are built-in transfers bars in the bathrooms to assist you in transferring to the toilet. While it’s definitely not the most spacious place to pee, it is far better than any airplane bathroom on this planet.
As for downsides, I will say that I sometimes get frustrated if I am in a train car that is not next to the Café Car. The Café Car is where the snacks are sold and I can get hungry on a long train ride. If I am in a train car right next to the Café Car, then my wheelchair can fit through the doors and I can navigate through to buy a snack. However, if my car is not immediately next to the Café Car, then I cannot get to it because my wheelchair cannot fit down the train car aisles. In these cases, I need to wait for a train conductor to come by and ask them to go to the Café Car for me to purchase my items and give them my money. I have never had an issue with this, but I am also never fully comfortable with it either. Sometimes I plan for this by bringing my own snacks and drinks with me to avoid this situation altogether.
If you’re looking for an alternative way to travel and haven’t tried the train yet – consider it! It’s a great way to travel and keep your wheelchair with you the entire time!
About Stephanie Woodward: Stephanie is a brand ambassador for Quantum Rehab® and works as a disability rights activist. She has received many awards for helping communities become more accessible, as well as for her actions in fighting for the rights of disabled individuals as it relates to Medicaid and other support services. Click here to learn more about Stephanie.