Recently my service dog, James, and I traveled on a short (approximately 6hrs each way) train trip through Amtrak. Though we have traveled the United States extensively by other means of transit over the years, this was our first Amtrak experience and I am happy to say it will not be our last- we will be repeat Amtrak customers.
James and I were traveling from our home in a suburb near Boston on our local train (the commuter rail) to the main Amtrak hub in Boston to visit friends in Albany. So initially I went on to www.Amtrak.com to look up potential routes and prices. Once figuring out a tentative schedule and trip that might work, I decided not to book on-line but to instead call their 800 number and talk to an Amtrak Ticket Agent. I am very glad I did. The Agent was incredibly helpful and able to address all of my concerns about traveling as a passenger with a service dog and disability on Amtrak. The Agent asked me a few questions about what I felt I may need assistance with, and because I know fairly well based on my disability what situations I run into trouble I was able to tell her what stations stops I would most likely need assistance at. She was able to put a note into the computer and sure enough on my trip an Amtrak Agent met me at those specific places as promised. The Agent also asked me specific questions about James- how big was he, and what breed as I believe she was trying to get a feel on whether or not we would need special seating. It was decided we would and so we were given the especially reserved “Passengers with Disabilities Seating” which had plenty of room for James and I would think any size service dog I have ever met. James is a 55 lb retriever. She then of course also asked the legally allowed questions that all persons partnered with a service dog should expect “Are you disabled?” and “What tasks is your dog trained to perform?” She made note of those in the record as well I think and our reservation was made.
The next day our train adventure began. My father dropped us off at our local train station to catch the commuter rail into the Boston station and fairly soon we had arrived in Boston. I went to the Amtrak Ticket Counter and picked up my tickets for the trip and at that time asked where Baggage Check was as I was not quite sure on that even though I am quite familiar with that particular station. A very friendly and courteous Amtrak Usher assisted me with taking my bag to Baggage Check and then he later ensured that we found our correct train and showed me to our proper seating with the extra foot room for James.
That is one thing I was incredibly impressed with this the majority of Amtrak personnel, they as a whole seemed to go out of their way to ensure that James and I were well taken care of. They made sure we found our seats. They made sure that we got off at the correct stop. They made sure I had all of my bags at each time I had to change trains. They made sure that I was met by the correct parties at the end of the line. Etc. All without being overbearing or pushy about it. They were respectful while being helpful and courteous. It was all in all a very pleasant experience.
We settled in for our long, but very scenic, ride to Albany. James rested quietly at my feet catching up on his sleep and I watched the landscape fly by out the window. Much sooner than I expected, a conductor was telling me “I just wanted to let you know that we’ll be arriving in Albany in about an hour, early, so if someone is meeting you, you might want to call them.” That was very nice of him to tell me! Indeed my friend was meeting me in Albany and if the conductor had not told me I would have had to wait for her for quite a while, so it was very nice of him to tell me that. Another unexpected perk of Amtrak service!
After visiting with my friends for a few days, it was time to begin our trip home. This time we would be taking a different route home, with a stop in NY/Penn Station with a layover of about 90minutes and a change of trains. I had never really been in a station as big as Penn Station so I knew I was going to need assistance there and told that to the Agent on the phone. Sure enough as our train from Albany was beginning to come into the station, a conductor called into Penn Station saying “We have a passenger who needs assistance, please have an Usher meet us at car # ….” Very quickly upon arrival into the station, I was met by an Usher and taken to the main lobby of the station and told to sit in the Amtrak seating area in a space reserved for disabled passengers needing assistance. I was then told that when my next train was due, another Usher would come for me to help get us there in time.
At that point we had been traveling for a while and I knew it might be at least another 4 hours before James could get outside to use the bathroom again, so I wanted to take him outside. I could see a table with a group of Amtrak employees at a counter so James and I walked over to it and asked if anyone could help us. One woman said she could take us outside. As we were going up the escalator towards the doors I tried to briefly say “Part of my disability means I get very disoriented in places like this station.” But when we got to the outside doors she told me, “I have to go meet another train, so I’m going to leave you, you can find your way back, right?” And she left. I should have been more firm that I would have trouble, but I wasn’t outspoken enough apparently. I took James to the curb and told him to do his business. And then we went back inside. Took the stairs back down to the main lobby, I took one look into the space and was promptly disoriented and lost. Luckily, this is quite a common phenomenon with me due to my disability, so James has a cue meaning ‘find the last place we were at’ so I told James “Find our seat” and he took off weaving in and out of the crowd for about 20 feet then took a sharp right turn and there was the counter where I had asked for assistance and right beyond it our seats waiting for us. Relief! Good boy James! So all I have to really say about that is if your dog needs to use the bathroom in Penn Station, you may be partially on your own or you need to be really clear and firm about what assistance you need.
Once we got back to our seats we had about another 45min to hour to wait for our train. The time was drawing near and an Amtrak Agent came over just to tell me the train was running late and not to worry, they wouldn’t forget to help me get on. That again, was just another example of the service. They didn’t have to go out of their way to come over to me to tell me the train was running 5-10min late, but they chose to do so. Very commendable.
Soon enough, we were on the final train home. A few more hours and we were de-boarding and then home. Our first Amtrak adventure was over. We had a very enjoyable time and as I said Amtrak has definitely earned my future service. Their staff was exceptionally well trained, the service was excellent, and the ride was overall a delight. We cannot wait until our next opportunity to travel on Amtrak again!