Disappointed in Amtrak

Yesterday we had leg two of our Amtrak trip home. It was a disappointing trip.

First, when we boarded, there was a barking pet dog in our car. I let the conductor know it wasn’t my service dog, but the conductor just responded by saying they allow pets. The ongoing barking was very annoying, and I was worried everyone was thinking it was Hestia since they could see Hestia and the pet dog was in a carrier.

Then one of the conductors came by and told me I couldn’t have Hestia in my lap. For those who don’t know, I frequently need Hestia for pressure therapy in my lap or in my arms. When I am seated, she generally remains in my lap in order to be able to help me. Plus, she cannot alert to my panic attacks from the floor.

There are also others with disabilities like diabetes whose dogs need to smell their breath in order to alert them to blood sugar changes. They need to be carried or in laps, too.

So the employee came up to me and told me Hestia had to be on the floor. I explained that I needed her in my lap for disability mitigation. She said they had recently had a service dog group in to educate Amtrak employees about service animals, and they said that service dogs should always be on the floor. We tried to figure out who had educated her, since we know a lot of service dog programs are only experts on whatever they do with their dogs (which are usually big), but she didn’t know.

We also explained that the guideline for this kind of reasonable accommodation is that the animal should not be on the *seat*, not that it should not be in a *lap*. It is possible that they were taught not to allow a dog on the seat, but that’s easily confused with not allowing them on laps. The rule of thumb is just like on airlines, where if the animal were a toddler of the same size, if the toddler would be small enough to be allowed in the lap, then the disability-mitigating animal can ride there, too. This was making some sense to her, but I didn’t feel like it was getting through all the way.

Eventually I said (honestly) that if Hestia couldn’t be in my lap while I was seated in the seat, I would sit on the floor. Seriously, there is no way I could handle 12 hours without contact from Hestia!!! Once I said that, she allowed me to keep Hestia on my lap. But we will be be in touch with our Amtrak contact to try to make sure things are better for folks in the future.

A couple of stops after we got on, a man in a manual chair boarded who was extremely unprepared for riding Amtrak. They put him in our car, and put his wheelchair sideways behind Brad’s chair. He used a walker to haltingly shuffle from his chair to his seat and needed assistance to do this and to sit down. Fine, Amtrak provides good assistance. But then it turns out he would need to urgently use the restroom. There is no call button on an Amtrak train. They will help you to the restroom etc very well, but you have to wait for an employee to walk by to assist you, which generally happens about every half an hour. Well this guy’s restroom needs could not wait, and apparently couldn’t be anticipated either.

The first time he needed to use the bathroom, he couldn’t get out of his seat. The man started shouting for assistance from others, but no one got up to help. So eventually Brad positioned himself so the man could use Brad’s wheelchair to help himself get upright. The train was swaying and rocking and the man was trying to get to the bathroom and it was very dangerous. He was making a lot of noise asking people for help and no one but Brad was helping. So I got up to help, and tried to help him into the restroom and he fell. I felt horrible. Then some men came and picked him up and helped him. Thank goodness.

But twice more this happened, and no one would help him. The man was NOT prepared at all for riding a train, and it was VERY dangerous for him. He should not have been riding a train without a capable assistant, given his urgent potty needs and how Amtrak assists their disabled passengers. Most people with disabilities are aware of their needs and don’t need an assistant to travel. But some do need a bit more help, and this guy happened to be one such person.

This was his first ride, and after his third trip to the bathroom, he admitted this was too dangerous for him, and returned to sitting in his (uncomfortable and in disrepair hospital style) wheelchair so that he could get himself to the bathroom safely. Since they had put him on a car with another wheelchair, there was no space for him to put his legs facing forward or backward. So he had his legs taking up most of the aisle space, which is unfortunately dangerous for everyone.

I felt so badly for him. Every time he needed to use the bathroom he would holler and yell, and only other people with disabilities would come to his assistance, and we couldn’t do much to help him. The most helpful person was Brad because his power chair weighs like 500 lbs and the guy could grab onto it to steady himself, even though Brad was a little afraid the guy might break his chair. The rest of us were a bunch of women with balance and other issues who could hardly steady ourselves on the train, much less a man larger than us with such severe mobility needs.

I was also annoyed because we were on the train overnight and every time I managed to get to sleep, the man would start hollering and yelling needing to use the bathroom. Plus I felt badly for Brad, as the man kept talking to Brad all night long asking for assistance. It was a long night.

I was upset at the man for not preparing for an Amtrak ride, thinking about the difficulty of getting to the bathroom urgently, the train rocking, the lack of immediate help, and not planning ahead to make sure his eating needs would be met. Brad reminded me that a lot of people would not imagine ahead of time that these things would be difficult on a train. But if he had known, he probably would know he *might* have been better off flying, as they have call buttons that could enable him to get the assistance he needed. Or he should have had a wheelchair he was comfortable sitting in or a good assistant so that he could get himself to the bathroom when it was urgently needed. I was also upset at Amtrak for not helping the man more. After the first time, you would have thought the conductors would have kept a better eye out for the man. Also, a call button would be extremely useful! He kept asking Brad about a call button or a phone number he could call to get an Amtrak person there.

I really hope our future Amtrak rides are not this difficult. Usually we enjoy or at least have an OK time riding Amtrak. This time it was a huge disability fail. We will be letting Amtrak know, and I hope that the employees get better educated!

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