In a 26-page letter [PDF] sent to Amtrak President Joseph Boardman on June 9, the Department of Justice slammed Amtrak for systematic violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“The Department finds that Amtrak has discriminated against persons with disabilities in violation of the ADA by failing to make existing station facilities in its intercity rail transportation system, for which it is responsible, accessible,” the letter states. “It has also violated the ADA by incorrectly classifying stations as ‘flag stop’ stations and thereby avoiding responsibility to make those station facilities accessible.
“In order to resolve this matter, a court-enforceable agreement is necessary to address the Department’s findings.”
The investigation was prompted by an extensive report from the National Disability Rights Network, published in October 2013, which found that 95 percent of Amtrak stations nationwide contain architectural barriers to people with disabilities. The report was accompanied by complaints issued to the DOJ.
When Congress passed the ADA in 1990, it gave the National Railroad Transportation Agency a 20-year timeline to make all of its stations fully ADA accessible.
A 2011 report from the agency’s Office of Inspector General found that just 48 of the nation’s 482 stations met this benchmark. A 2014 report found that just three more stations became fully accessible during the preceeding years. Moreover, it found that 17 stations had no access to the train for wheelchair users and that 55 of the stations contained inaccessible bathrooms.
The DOJ report echoed substantially all the findings of the NDRN and Inspector General reports.
In addition to the architectural findings, the DOJ found that Amtrak illegally categorized certain stations as “flagging stations,” referring to stations exempt from the ADA because they do not normally have passengers boarding and entering. In total, it found that 25 were inappropriately categorized.
The letter listed five remedial measures that the DOJ demanded that Amtrak take to come into ADA compliance. First, it stated that all stations need to become fully ADA compliant. Second, it ordered Amtrak to identify facilities incorrectly listed as flagstop stations.
In addition, it instructed Amtrak to provide system wide training to its employees on ADA requirements. Likewise, it called on Amtrak to train employees to provide assistance to people with disabilities. Finally, it demanded that Amtrak pay compensation to people injured by its failure to comply with the statute.
Disability Rights Washington publishes Rooted in Rights, is the protection and advocacy agency for Washington, and is a member of the National Disability Rights Network.