People with mobility disabilities who traveled to or from or wanted to use the Westerly train station may qualify for financial compensation from Amtak under a recently announced settlement between the transportation company and the U.S. Department of Justice.

The Department of Justice and Amtrak, which is also known as the National Railroad Passenger Corp., entered into an agreement on Dec. 2 to resolve the department’s findings of disability discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Under the agreement, Amtrak will fix inaccessible stations and pay $2.25 million to victims hurt by inaccessibility at the 78 stations, including the one on Railroad Avenue in Westerly, according to a justice department news release.

To be eligible for monetary compensation, an individual must meet the following criteria: Have a mobility disability; have been harmed physically or emotionally because of accessibility issues, including, for example, inaccessible parking, steep slopes or steps to get to the station, lack of directional signs, toilet rooms with inaccessible entrances, stalls or sinks, high ticket counters, deteriorated platforms, and narrow routes at stations at one or more of the 78 stations between July 27, 2013, and Dec. 2, 2020. Those eligible for compensation must also have lived at, visited or desired to visit a place closer to one or more of the 78 stations than an accessible, alternative Amtrak station.

In 2018 Amtrak announced work that was planned for the Westerly train station to improve accessibility and ADA compliance. That work entailed installation of two hydraulic elevators to serve the existing passenger tunnel connecting the north and south platforms and removal of old wheelchair lifts. Additionally, the north and south stair pavilions were extended to provide enclosures for the new elevators.

Prior to the Amtrak work, the state Department of Transportation, which owns the station building and the parking lot, made upgrades to the parking lot to bring it into compliance with ADA requirements following an inspection conducted as part of an investigation by the U.S. Attorney's Office for Rhode Island, which opened its probe in December 2016 at the request of the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division. Amtrak owns the platform and rail. 

Under the agreement, Amtrak has committed to make its intercity rail stations accessible, prioritizing stations with the most significant barriers to access. During the next 10 years, Amtrak will design at least 135 stations to be accessible, complete construction at 90 of those stations and have at least 45 more under construction. Amtrak will also train staff on ADA requirements and implement an agreed-upon process for accepting and handling ADA complaints. As part of this commitment, Amtrak recently established an office of the vice president of stations, properties and accessibility to coordinate its compliance with the ADA.

Prior to the settlement being reached, the justice department was preparing to file a lawsuit alleging Amtrak violated the ADA by failing to make its stations "accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities, including individuals who use wheelchairs," according to the news release. Amtrak, according to the release, denied the allegations but agreed to voluntarily enter the settlement agreement.

Amtrak released the following statement, "The settlement reached by DOJ and Amtrak not only resolves the lawsuit ... but more importantly it builds upon and protects important aspects of Amtrak's longstanding ADA compliance efforts — not just architectural compliance at stations, but also training for employees, effective oversight by Federal Railroad Administration and Amtrak executives, and compensation for certain passengers who may have been harmed by noncompliance at certain stations. Last fiscal year, Amtrak invested a record $109 million on ADA-related design and construction improvement projects at more than 159 locations nationwide, advancing efforts to make stations universally accessible."

The U.S. Department of Justice opened an investigation of Amtrak following receipt of complaints in 2011 and 2012 from individuals with disabilities alleging that certain Amtrak stations were inaccessible. The department also received a complaint in 2013 from the National Disability Rights Network, the nonprofit membership organization for the federally mandated Protection and Advocacy Systems and Client Assistance Programs for individuals with disabilities.

Amtrak operates at approximately 500 stations across 46 states and the District of Columbia,

Other stations affected by the settlement are in Old Saybrook, Conn., Windsor, Conn., Windsor Locks, Conn.; Hudson, N.Y., Plattsburgh, N.Y., Port Henry, N.Y.,  Castleton, Vt. and Montpelier, Vt.

Claim forms and declarations must be submitted by mail, fax, email or online to the claims administrator by no later than May 29. Help is available from the settlement administrator for those who are unable to complete the claim form due to a disability.

Questions about making claims should be directed to the settlement administrator by any of the following methods:  Online: AmtrakDisabilitySettlement.com; email: infor@AmtrakDisabilitySettlement.com; telephone (toll-free): 1-888-334-6165; TTY telephone (toll-free): 1-866-411-6976.

dfaulkner@thewesterlysun.com

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