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Amtrak has paid more than $2 million to over 1,500 people with disabilities whom it discriminated against at nearly 80 train stations across the country, from Tuscaloosa to Topeka, the Justice Department announced on Wednesday.
The payments are the first of several actions mandated by a settlement reached last year between the railroad and the Justice Department that requires Amtrak to rectify persistent barriers across its rail system to those with disabilities.
Obstacles included narrow waiting areas, parking spaces without signs marking them as accessible, steep inclines for passenger platforms and track crossings, and toilets that didn’t accommodate wheelchairs, according to a lawsuit that the Justice Department brought against Amtrak alleging that those “failures” caused continued harm and violated federal civil rights law.
Under the terms of the settlement, Amtrak must, over the next nine years, redesign 90 stations across the country to make them accessible to all passengers and start construction at 45 other stations. It must also train its staff to comply with the requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act, a landmark civil rights law passed in 1990 that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities.
Those efforts will “bring both Amtrak and our nation one step closer to realizing the A.D.A.’s promise of equal opportunity for people with disabilities,” Kristen Clarke, an assistant attorney with the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said in a statement.
In a statement on Wednesday, Marc Magliari, an Amtrak spokesman, said the railroad had “made significant progress in bringing numerous facilities into higher levels of accessibility.” He added that it had budgeted more than $143 million for accessibility improvements at 43 stations this year.
The company operates about 500 stations in 46 states and the District of Columbia, according to court documents.
The Justice Department opened its investigation into Amtrak after it had received complaints about inaccessible train stations and a critical report in 2013 by the National Disability Rights Network, an advocacy group that investigated the railroad in relation to civil rights law and found that the railroad had “lagged far behind” other transportation providers in providing accessible services to customers with disabilities. Passengers, the report concluded, had been forced to “suffer embarrassment, discomfort, and other indignities” throughout the process of train travel, from purchasing a ticket to disembarking.
“Inaccessible train stations are more than just an inconvenience,” Curt Decker, the group’s executive director, said in a statement on Wednesday. “Transportation is the linchpin of community integration.”