Traveling With Your Eye Shut
Travel Tips for the Visually Impaired
Part Five - Train Travel
Travel Tips for the Visually Impaired
Part Five - Train Travel
By Rochelle Caviness - July 23, 2002
Intra-City Rail and Subway Service:
Intra-city rail and subway service can vary greatly from city to city, both in regard to services offered and the amount of assistance available. Most will, however, meet minimum ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990) requirements. But what does this mean for the visually impaired? It depends. Many rail systems have installed audio announcement systems, either automated or with a live voice that will announce the various stops and warn you when the doors are opening and shutting. In other locations, a bell or tone will sound when the doors open or close. But even where such systems are in place, the sound quality can vary greatly and may not easy to hear.
No matter what your visual acuity is, navigating a major rail or subway exchange for the first time, can present a challenge.
Travel on Amtrak
- The first trick to navigating a rail or subway station is finding it. Regular subway maps can often be obtained by calling or writing the Convention & Visitor's bureau of the city you will be traveling in. They may also be able to provide you with train schedules. If not, they will be able to tell you who you need to contact to get such information.
- When in doubt, ask! This runs the gamut from asking people on the street where the subway station is that you are looking for, to asking subway system employees how to get to the correct platform.
- Many rail and subways systems have installed raised bumps near the edge of the platforms, others only have colored lines. Be sure to stand well clear of the edge. Often these platforms can become quite crowded, and you want to avoid the possibility of stumbling or being pushed off the platform.
- If you don't have a guide dog, but do have a white cane - use it. Even if you don't normally use your cane, you should consider using it when riding a train or subway. There are many hazards to be found around trains that your cane may help you navigate, ranging from the edge of the platform to the gap that can exist between the platform and the train itself.
- If you want to obtain a tactile map of the system, try calling the agency that runs the rail line you will be riding to see if such maps are available.
- While your at it, ask if they normally have people on duty who could escort you to the correct platform, and who can ensure that you board the correct train, if you need such assistance. If they say no, ask if you can arrange for such a service. Many times you will find that such services are available - but it is up to you to pry out this information.
- If you will be riding this line on a regular basis, contact the local division of blind services to see if you can get special mobility training so that you can navigate the rail or subways system, and ride the train, unaided.
- If you are traveling with a guide dog, in the United States, your dog is permitted to ride with you at no extra cost. To learn more about traveling with a guide dog, see Traveling with a Guide Dog.
In the U.S., most inter-city train routes are operated by Amtrak. They provide rail service between most major cities, and they also offer "Thruway Service." With Amtrak's "Thruway Service" you will find that you can make 'guaranteed' bus connections at many Amtrak stations, that will take you to many cities not currently served by Amtrak.
Depending where you are traveling to, and from, trips on Amtrak can be a short as a few minutes, to several days. For longer trips, private sleeping accommodations are available, for an extra fee. Or you can choose to sleep in your coach chair. I've traveled both in sleepers and via the 'chair' method, and I've found that the chairs to be quite comfortable. They are roomy, and they come with a head and foot rest. Most overnight trains also have changing rooms, so that passengers riding in the coach seats can change clothes if desired.
Special Service on Amtrak
Amtrak trains are, themselves, usually well staffed and help is available both when boarding and disembarking from the train. However some stations do not have staff on duty at all times, and many smaller stations do not have baggage check facilities. In such cases you will need to carry you bag to the train, and then reclaim it as you leave. If you will traveling from or to a smaller station that does not normally have staff on hand, let them (Amtrak) know in advance that you will need assistance with your bags and they will either have someone on hand to help, or the train crew will provide assistance.
On trains that offer meal service, you can have your meals and drinks served to you in your chair or sleeper compartment. Amtrak has recently started to put braille and large print menus on all their trains. However, they may not be on every train yet, so it is best to call in advance to see if such menus will be available on the train you will be traveling on.
- If you will need assistance, it is always best to mention this when you purchase your ticket, or when make your reservation via Amtrak's toll free reservation line 1-800-872-7845. Their TTY number is 1-800-523-6590. When you make a request for assistance, the customer service representative will make a note of your request and forward it on to the proper individuals. They will also be able to explain what to expect while on the train, and what services are available. For best service, notify Amtrak of your needs as far in advance as possible. At a minimum, call at least 24-72 hours before your departure.
- Amtrak brochures are available in a variety of accessible formats, including audio. These are available at many large stations, or you can request them by calling Amtrak's customer service at the above number.
Service animals are permitted on all Amtrak trains, stations, and on thruway buses. I asked Kajal Jhaveri, with Amtrak Media Relations if it was possible to walk a guide dog during train stops. The answer was, "If the train schedule permits, Amtrak will allow time to walk service animals at station stops, provided that guests stay within reasonable proximity to the train and reboard promptly when the conductor notifies you that the train is about to depart. Guests should notify the
conductor when they first board the train if they will
need to walk their animal."
Personally, I happen to like to travel by train, a task which Amtrak has made even nicer by offering a 15% discount on coach travel to disabled travelers! As well, your companion can also qualify for a 15% discount. For disabled travelers with a mobility impairment, Amtrak also offers a 15% discount on their accessible sleeping accommodations. When requesting this discount, you may be asked to provide documentation of your disability, at other times, your word is all that is required.
Other Rail Lines
- To find out more about this discount, and any restrictions that might apply, simply call 1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7845) and ask to speak to a customer service representative.
In addition to intra-city rail lines, and Amtrak, there are a variety of smaller rail services that abound throughout the U.S. Most of these rail companies operate in a very limited area and may offer such unique experiences as a short sightseeing trip through a scenic area or dinner trip. Other rail companies offer specialized or luxury train trips such as the Rocky Mountaineer Railtours'Canadian Rockies Spectacular, offering a nine days rail tour of the Rocky mountains.
Each rail company may have different policies when it comes to assisting visually impaired passengers. Always call in advance to discuss your needs. This will give the company a chance to make any changes that may be required, and to ensure that they have everything on hand that you may need, such a brailled menus. Calling in advance will also enable you to get a feel for what the trip will be like - thereby allowing you to sit back and enjoy the journey!
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