What the Hell was Amtrak Thinking?

The current Amtrak brain trust was faced with two courses of action this past week and, I’m sorry, but not surprised, to say they zigged when they should have zagged.  Here’s a short version of the story:

Access Living is a Chicago-based non-profit organization promoting the rights of the disabled. A few times every year, their board of directors holds special meetings in Bloomington, Illinois, a little more than two hours southwest of Chicago by train. And, in fact, the easiest and most convenient way to get to Bloomington is by Amtrak’s Lincoln Service. 

However, several of the Access Living board members are confined to wheelchairs and, in their normal configuration, the Amtrak coaches on that line have a space for just one wheelchair. Problem: there are only three coaches in the train’s consist.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

To make sure the right number of wheelchairs can be accommodated on the day the board of directors is traveling, Amtrak removes the correct number of seats from one of the coaches.

Recently, however, a formal letter from Amtrak to Access Living said that it is both inefficient and expensive to remove and then replace seats to make room for wheelchairs and therefore there will be a flat fee charged whenever that had to be done.

Access Living:  And the fee would be how much?

Amtrak: Twenty-five thousand dollars.

Access Living:  That’s the cost for transporting 25 wheelchairs?

Amtrak:  Yes, it’s a flat fee for the service—for removing, then 

    reinstalling up to 25 coach chairs.

Access Living: What would be the cost for ten wheelchairs?

Amtrak:   Twenty-five thousand dollars.

Access Living:   Two chairs?

Amtrak:   Twenty-five thousand dollars.

The Access Living folks asked to have the issue forwarded to Amtrak’s “upper management.”

As of last night (Monday), there had been no response.

At this point, I feel compelled to say that those of us who spend more than a little time, energy and treasure supporting passenger rail in general and Amtrak in particular . . . well, we’re starting to get pissed off.