Amtrak suspends policy resulting in $25,000 bill for activists

Amtrak has suspended 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.

“It was never meant to be applied to this situation and we apologize for that mistake,” said a statement emailed Wednesday by Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari. “We are glad it has all worked out and we were able to accommodate our customers’ trip. We will do better next time. We are America’s Railroad and we want to provide more trips, not fewer.”

On Monday, Amtrak apologized to Access Living and agreed to accommodate everyone at the regular rate of $16 per person.

Access Living spokeswoman Bridget Hayman said five members of the group got “royal treatment’’ on their trip Wednesday to Bloomington-Normal, Illinois, from Chicago.

“Makes you wonder what the hubbub was about,” Hayman told the Chicago Sun-Times.

An Amtrak sales agent had informed Access Living of a new pricing policy that meant the group would be charged for seats that have to be removed to fit more wheelchairs, resulting in the $25,000 bill.

News of the policy sparked an outcry led by U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, an Illinois Democrat who uses a wheelchair due to injuries suffered in combat in Iraq. She requested a meeting with Amtrak executives over the charge she said was “outrageous.”