Train Travel for People With Special Needs.
I sometimes find myself repeating suggestions about train travel—when to book, who to tip and how much, connections vs. layovers—that kind of stuff. But here’s something I don’t think I’ve ever discussed before: what to do before and during a train trip if you or your companion has some restrictions due to some illness or physical condition.
First of all, a reminder that every Amtrak sleeping car—both Superliners and Viewliners—has one bedroom that is wheelchair accessible, includes en suite toilet facilities, designed to accommodate a person with a disability plus a companion.
The accessible bedroom is on the lower level of the Superliner sleepers and at the end of the car on the single-level Viewliners. These rooms are not sold to the general public until 48-hours before the scheduled departure of that particular train.
But there are some steps you should take if you’re going to be traveling with someone with a disability or a health issue requiring special service or attention from on board staff.
When you make your reservations—that’s at 1-800-USA-RAIL—be sure to inform the agent very specifically as to what your needs will be for every segment of your trip. Typical requirements would include extra pillows, frequent ice to keep medications cool, or having meals delivered to your room at specific times.
The reservations agent will add a “Special Service Request” to your reservation and that will be on the passenger manifest which the Sleeping Car Attendant will pick up when he or she boards the train well before any passengers do.
Once you and your companion board, and probably after the train departs, you can expect the Car Attendant to come by your room to discuss whatever special needs will be required. Take your time, be very specific, and if your needs are at all complicated, it would be a good idea to have them written down clearly and concisely on a sheet of paper you can give to the attendant.
And, while this last bit of advice is not included in any of Amtrak’s official communication on this subject, please reward good, attentive and conscientious service rendered by the car attendant with a generous tip when you arrive.
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not point out that there are many multitudes of people across this country who, for a great long list of valid reasons, are simply unable to fly. For them, Amtrak is the only possible alternative for any long-distance travel … a reality that is constantly and willfully overlooked by more than a few dim bulbs in Congress who habitually vote for the inadequate funding of Amtrak. And shame on every damn one of them!
Jim more and more passengers are actually DENIED BOARDING if you are in a condition not fit for travel, and also are a liability. As a former sleeping car attendant, impossible demands almost always were a problem from “ROOM H” (Viewliner & Superliner) This sense of entitlement puts everyone in a very uncomfortable bind and monopolizes the sleeping car attendant’s duties. (On train #21 the SCA is responsible for 8 roomettes in the transition sleeper, five deluxe bedrooms, nine upper level roomettes, four lower level roomettes, a family bedroom, and the dreaded handicapped room……that’s potentially FIFTY SIX passengers. Amtrak is a RAILROAD, not a medical facility. If you cant take care of yourself, then you SHOULD NOT BE TRAVELING. A “detailed list” handed to me would be an absolute denial of carriage.
Hang on a second, assistance, yes, but this sounds like utilizing Amtrak’s sleeping car service like its a medical facility
Clearly, there comes a point when an individual with a severe disability or illness should not be traveling. From what I know about this specific case, however, only a little extra effort from the car attendant will be required. I must say, I hope we never get to the point where a passenger can be DENIED BOARDING because a car attendant decides that he or she is going to be too much trouble.
I must apologize in that came across WAY too strong on my part……reading it the day after is making me sick. I meant in no way your condition was a problem, 16 years and 5.1 million miles exposed me to these types of situations. No mater what the circumstance, even though it gets stressful, my passengers always get professionalism out of me…..believe it or not, even a trip on the Zephyr (about 1999) where eastbound we RAN OUT OF GAS!!!! IN THE DESERT!!!! p.s. love your columns:)