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Amtrak ends policy resulting in $25,000 bill for disability activists

Amtrak is getting rid of a pricing policy that resulted in a $25,000 travel bill for a group of activists who use wheelchairs heading to an Illinois conference ...

Amtrak is getting rid of a pricing policy that resulted in a $25,000 travel bill for a group of activists who use wheelchairs heading to an Illinois conference and rally on disability rights.

The passenger rail agency had told Chicago-based Access Living its policy was to charge extra to reconfigure train cars to accommodate wheelchair users.

"If a group of non-disabled people traveled together, they'd get a group discount but if a group of disabled people travel together, apparently we get a $25,000 surcharge," Adam Ballard with Access Living said.

In an email exchange obtained by CNN, an Amtrak agent explained that the train only had three spaces for wheelchairs, so it would have to take a car out of service and remove some seats to accommodate the group. Amtrak can't sell seats in the car until it's returned to its regular configuration, so that contributed to the cost, according to the email.

The agent told the group that Amtrak had absorbed the cost of reconfiguring the cars in the past but said that policy had changed last year.

"We couldn't find the policy they were citing. If this is a policy, this is a problem for a lot of people," Access Living spokeswoman Bridget Hayman, who uses a wheelchair herself, told CNN.

Amtrak said Wednesday the policy wasn’t meant to be applied in the case. Amtrak earlier had agreed to accommodate everyone at the regular rate of $16 per person.

Hayman says members of the group got "royal treatment’’ on their trip Wednesday to Bloomington-Normal, Illinois, from Chicago.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Illinois) tweeted on Sunday that the $25,000 fee was "outrageous."

"The Americans with Disabilities Act has been the law of the land for 30 years. Yet in 2020, @Amtrak believes it would be an unreasonable burden to remove architectural barriers that would enable a group with five wheelchair users to travel together," she wrote.

Duckworth is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Transportation and Safety, which focuses on safety and infrastructure development related to both freight and passenger rail, including Amtrak.

The senator lost both of her legs and partial use of her right arm in 2004, when a rocket-propelled grenade hit the Black Hawk helicopter she was flying in Iraq. She sometimes uses a wheelchair.

An Amtrak spokesman said that it is scheduling a meeting with Duckworth's office to review and discuss Amtrak policies for future instances where rail cars need special reconfiguration and modification to accommodate passengers with disabilities.

This report includes additional reporting from CNN.