Amtrak riders with disabilities may qualify in certain cases for monetary damages after the passenger rail service settled claims that dozens of stations across the country, including stations in Connecticut and Rhode Island, failed to meet legal standards for accessibility.
Three stations in Connecticut — Windsor, Windsor Locks and Old Saybrook — and one in Westerly, Rhode Island were part of the settlement that included 78 stations across the country. As part of the settlement, Amtrak agreed to fix problems of accessibility, and pay $2.25 million into a fund paying out claims to people with disabilities who were harmed by the lack of accessibility.
“This is an extremely important settlement because it is, first of all, a long time coming, and very badly needed, as so many Amtrak stations have been inaccessible to people with disabilities,” said Deborah Dorfman, incoming executive director of Disability Rights Connecticut. “When things are inaccessible, that means people with disabilities are not provided opportunities to enjoy and participate in using the services.”
A federal complaint from the U.S. Department of Justice Disability Rights Section outlines Amtrak’s failures to meet requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act at dozens of stations across the country, including stations in New London and Windsor.
Amtrak had until July 26, 2010 to comply with the ADA, passed in 1990.
At New London, the complaint alleges that Amtrak failed to provide routes from buildings to passenger platforms that are accessible to and usable by people with disabilities, and failed to make the platforms accessible.
At Windsor, the platforms, parking, and routes from parking to buildings were not accessible, according to the complaint.
“People have suffered harm by not being allowed to fully participate in the Amtrak system because of the inaccessible stations,” Dorfman said. “When people are excluded, that is a form of discrimination against people with disabilities, so this is really important to make sure that people have equal opportunities and they are included.”
CT Examiner asked the Department of Justice and Amtrak why Old Saybrook is listed as one of the eligible stations despite not being listed in the complaint, and why New London is not listed as an eligible station even though it was listed in the complaint. Neither immediately responded on Friday.
Dorfman said that, while it will take time for Amtrak to address all of the stations that don’t meet standards across the country, the stations listed in Connecticut are a high priority.
Under the settlement agreement, Amtrak will design at least 135 stations to be accessible, and complete construction on at least 90 of them over the next decade and have at least 45 more under construction, according to the Justice Department.
A statement to CT Examiner from Amtrak said the settlement resolves the lawsuit from the Department of Justice, and “more importantly it builds on and protects important aspects of Amtrak’s log-standing ADA compliance efforts.”
Amtrak invested $109 million on ADA-related improvements at 159 locations across the country in the last fiscal year, which the company said is the most it has invested in a year. Those include “architectural compliance” with ADA, as well as training for employees, according to Amtrak.
For more information about the settlement, click here