‘This is progress’: Amtrak to pay out claims from ADA settlement

Amtrak’s $2.25 million fund is open for claims from individuals with mobility disabilities who were unable to access its stations. The fund is the result of the 2020 settlement between the Department of Justice and Amtrak after the transportation company was found in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act for decades.

Amtrak failed to comply with the ADA by the July 26, 2010 deadline, which gave them 20 years to do so from when the law was passed in 1990.

The complaint filed by the department alleged Amtrak “has violated and continues to violate the ADA by failing to make existing stations in its intercity rail transportation system readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.”

On the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Amtrak reached an agreement with the Justice Department to make stations accessible as well as train staff on ADA requirements.

“Transportation is the linchpin of access for people with disabilities to the full economic, social, and cultural benefits of our country,” said Eric Dreiband, assistant attorney general of the civil rights division, about the settlement last year. “The agreement is a historic victory for individuals with disabilities, Amtrak, the rule of law, and the promise of equal opportunity for all Americans.”

In a statement to CBS News, Amtrak says it spent $109 million on ADA-related design and construction improvement projects in the last fiscal year. The company said its action “not only resolves the lawsuit that was filed, but more importantly it builds upon and protects important aspects of Amtrak’s long standing ADA compliance efforts.”

Thomas Morgan plans to be one of those filing a claim.

Morgan, who uses a wheelchair, faced a barrier to travel when taking a surprise trip home from Randolph-Macon College in the spring of 2016. Upon arriving at the Ashland, Virginia, Amtrak station, he found the entire facility inaccessible. Morgan was unaware there was no wheelchair access at the station, that the only way to board the train was by stairs.

“Normally I’m not a huge advocate for disability because I’d rather talk it out and not inconvenience others,” Morgan tells CBS News. “For me, my disability is not really central to my life. It only becomes apparent to me when it becomes an issue.”

Morgan contacted Amtrak, and the company  installed a lift on one of the two platforms in Ashland.

This was a temporary, inconsistent solution. Morgan had to contact the station prior to arrival, and occasionally the train would come on the track without the lift, stranding Morgan.

After the DOJ settlement, Amtrak will work over 10 years to design at least 135 stations to be accessible, complete construction at 90 of those stations, and have at least 45 more under construction. This will grant individuals with mobility disabilities the ability to travel freely.

“That’s awesome. I mean, this is progress to me,” said Morgan.

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