Ambulatory Wheelchair User Traveling Solo by Amtrak
May 31, 2023 11:02 AM   Subscribe

I am planning a trip by train later this summer, and am looking for some advice about doing it solo as an ambulatory wheelchair user.

I have tons of experience traveling by train, so don't need general advice. But here is my situation:

I'll be traveling alone. One train change along the way, in Chicago, a station I've been in many times and am familiar with.

I'll either be traveling with my mobility scooter, or with my manual wheelchair. I can walk short distances (I don't use an aid around the house, for instance) and AM strong enough that I haul my own chair or scooter in and out of my car as needed. I'm not worried about getting on the train from the platform. But I have questions for in the station and for on the train.

I suppose these are my big questions:

Once on the train, is there help available if, for instance, I want something from the cafe car? I have a special tendre for the Amtrak cheese and cracker plates and might like a cold soda, though it's not super-long trip (16 hours, all told, with a train change in Chicago, where I can get a meal) and I will bring food.

In the station: how do you navigate with luggage? It's a five-day trip, so I won't have a large bag, but I will have a bag on wheels. Will there be help in the station to get it inside, and then to the train? At what point does assistance begin and end? This may be the thing that decides whether I take the scooter or the chair, because I can pull a rolling bag while driving my scooter, if I choose the right bag. But overall I'd rather travel with my chair.

At the station I leave from, I'll have help right to the platform if I need it. Not so in Chicago, or at the other end, because the train arrives and leaves in the middle of the night and the friend I'm visiting can't do drop off/pick up in the middle of the night, so I'll be Ubering.

Anything else you can think of? I won't have problems getting to the bathroom or, depending on how far from it I'm seated, the observation car, but the cafe will be downstairs from the observation car and that is not happening for me.
posted by Well I never to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
There's a place at the right front of each railcar that is supposed to be for wheelchair parking. People tend to pile it full of luggage but they are not supposed to. So park there and grab the seat right behind it. The rest room is just ahead of this area.

Check this page which may answer a number of your questions. For example it appears that meals can be delivered to you (but maybe not if there is just a "club" car and no dining car). People tend to be pretty helpful, though, so you can probably just ask someone who is heading there to bring you back something.
posted by beagle at 11:20 AM on May 31 [1 favorite]

I was just at Chicago's Union Station last week and saw signs for their Red Cap service
In select station, we offer Red Cap service to assist Amtrak riders with baggage to and from their trains. But our dedicated Red Cap Team Amtrak members do more than just carry luggage.

They help passengers with disabilities, senior citizens and large groups navigate the station, they operate motorized vehicles (to carry your 50lbs bags), wheelchair lifts, ramps and provide general assistance to visitors of the station (after all, sometimes those bathrooms are hard to find).
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 11:52 AM on May 31 [3 favorites]

And this page has a list of stations where the service is available beyond Chicago:
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 11:53 AM on May 31 [1 favorite]

If the luggage is the only determination on choosing which chair you bring, something like this might help with your luggage on your manual chair. For purchase here.

You can also wear a decently large duffel bag on your lap with the shoulder strap around your back. Not ideal, but it might get you to the waiting car.

If your luggage has 4 wheels, I'd be tempted to tie it (bungee cords?) either to your front or back so you can push or pull it hands-free. Front would be easier, because you'd be able to see obstacles and adjust to avoid having the suitcase fall over.
posted by hydra77 at 12:12 PM on May 31 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: That luggage carrier!! Love it.

Thanks for the advice, folks. Very helpful.
posted by Well I never at 12:19 PM on May 31

Traveling east or west of Chicago? Eastern trains are single-level Viewliner cars, and you’ll be better off. Western trains are bi-level Superliners. The accessible areas are on the lower levels, but all inter-car movement happens on the upper level which requires traversing a very narrow stairwell.

If you’re in a sleeper, your attendant MIGHT be able to have cafe snacks delivered, but I wouldn’t expect the coach attendant to have enough spoons to do that.
posted by hwyengr at 6:09 PM on May 31

There is this solution for manual chair luggage-hauling, too. I haven't tried it myself, but I hear there's a bit of a learning curve. When traveling in a manual chair, I do a duffel or messenger bag on my lap (strap over a shoulder), plus a backpack. I'm also a huge fan of the "Down Under Catchall" products here, especially for travel but just super convenient all the time.

I was hungry on an Amtrak the other day and thought about asking a conductor for assistance getting food (which I believe they can provide/arrange). I wish I had, so I could give you a better answer!
posted by bananapants at 7:18 AM on June 1

The people on the Amtrak Unlimited Discussion Forum are very knowledgeable, you might want to ask there.
posted by Preserver at 8:01 AM on June 1

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