The Amish Choo Choo That Could

One of the advantages to blogging on the road is that I get immediate feedback from my readers, and sometimes that feedback directs me to cool accessible finds. Such was the case last week when Darryl read my blog and noticed I was near PA Amish country; and he quickly directed me to the Strasburg Railroad.

And I have to say, Darryl was spot-on with his recommendation!

Located just 15 miles southeast of Lancaster in the heart of Amish Country, the Strasburg station features accessible parking, level access to the platform, ramped access to most of the shops and an accessible restroom. The 45-minute trip takes you through scenic Amish country and for an extra $5 you can enjoy lunch along the way.

As far as access goes, there is a portable lift at the station that can be used on any of the cars; however access varies depending on the car. Most of the cars have narrow doorways, and wheelchair-users must walk and transfer to a seat in these cars. They can leave their wheelchair at the station and pick it up when they return. Folks who cannot transfer should make reservations in the baggage car, which has wider doorways, so wheelers can stay in their own wheelchair for the duration of the trip.

Advance reservations are highly recommended during the busy summer and fall seasons, and the ticket agents are very well versed in the access features of the railway. So if you?re in the area, give the Strasburg Railroad a try — it?s affordable and accessible.

And if you?re just passing through Strasburg and want some rib-sticking Amish food, try the Good & Plenty restaurant. There?s lots of accessible parking in front and level access to the front door. The food is served family style, and like the name suggests, it just keeps on coming. It was the perfect place to stop before we hopped on the airplane home. After a beer in the terminal I slept for most of the flight! Now that?s the way I like to travel!

Canadian Supremes Rules Against VIA

This disability world is all abuzz about the latest Canadian Supreme Court ruling, in an ongoing battle that pitted a grass roots Canadian disability organization against Canada?s rail transportation giant. In a sense, it?s a true David and Goliath story.

It?s all about rail cars, the Renaissance rail cars used on the popular overnight VIA train between Montreal and Toronto, to be specific. VIA purchased these French-manufactured cars, which were previously used on European overnight trains, from Alstom Transport in 2000. Although these narrow cars have accessible sleeper units, their width presents a few barriers to independent wheelchair access. So the Council of Canadians with a Disability brought these access shortcomings to the attention of the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA).

And in 2003, the CTA ruled that VIA must make access modifications to the Renaissance cars; including widening the doors and adding wheelchair tie-downs to the accessible suites, modifying the economy washrooms, installing companion seats for the economy class wheelchair tie-down spaces and adding more moveable armrests to the economy class cars.

VIA of course challenged that decision, and in 2005 a Federal Court ruled in their favor by deciding that VIA did not have to make the access modifications.

Fridays decision by the Canadian Supreme Court reversed that ruling. And as a result VIA will have to make access modifications to 30 of the 139 Renaissance rail cars.

But the ruling goes beyond making train travel more accessible. Disabled advocates hope it will also establish a legal precedent for other modes of travel, including air and bus services.

And with the ?one-person, one-fare? issue (One-Person,-One-Fare) still up in the air, this ruling couldn?t have come at a better time.

All Aboard…or Not

As I was cleaning off my desk today, I happened across an interesting ADA-related decision. It’s interesting for a couple of reasons. First off, it involves Amtrak, and to be honest there just aren’t a lot of ADA cases filed against Amtrak. Second, it raises some interesting “what if” questions.

The plaintiffs in this case are a group of passengers who wanted to travel by train from Harrisburg to Washington DC. The group consisted of 23 people, including 13 wheelchair-users. Herein lies the problem. They all wanted to travel together in the same car, however in order to do this Amtrak would have to modify the existing accessible seating. Amtrak has the access required under the ADA (one wheelchair space and one wheelchair storage space per car) but they were willing to make modifications for this group. The catch is, they also wanted to charge $200 per ticket to make these modifications.

The passengers claimed this charge was not allowed under the ADA. Amtrak disagreed, so off they went to court.

In the end, U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III ruled in favor of Amtrak and said the railroad could charge extra fees for seating that is not required by federal law. The passengers, many of who are on fixed incomes, were disappointed; however looking at the larger picture, this decision also raises some interesting questions.

If, as the judge ruled, businesses can impose a surcharge for access modifications above the minimum requirements, what’s to stop a 30-room hotel from charging extra for a room with a roll-in shower? After all, under the ADA, a roll-in shower isn’t required in properties with fewer than 50 rooms.

This decision seems to create more questions than it answers. Will it hold up under future scrutiny? Time will tell, but for now expect to pay extra for group wheelchair-seating on Amtrak.

Heathrow Express Discount

If your travels take you over to London before the end of the month, be on the lookout for Heathrow Express employees before you hit passport control. Why? Because they are handing out vouchers good for 50% off on Heathrow Express transfers to Paddington Station.

Yes, that’s right, I said 50% off!

So not only is the Heathrow Express the quickest way to get to central London, it’s also the cheapest (at least through August 26).

Access features aboard Heathrow Express trains include a minimal gap between the platform and the train, dedicated spaces for wheelchair-users and emergency call buttons near the wheelchair spaces. The journey from Heathrow to Paddington Station takes just 15 minutes; and once you get to Paddington, you can hail an accessible taxi to your final destination.

It’s as easy as pie.

And if you’re planning a trip across the Big Pond, be sure and surf over to Go World Travel (www.goworldtravel.com) next month and read my September column — “Wheeling Around London”. It’s a great resource for your London visit.