I love to travel by train for shorter distances, where the hassle of air travel just isn’t worth it. I am a frequent rider of Amtrak in the Northeast United States, but I have also taken my share of trips on the railways of Europe. Like you, I once had a lot of questions about how to arrange a trip suitable for me and my power wheelchair. With this list of frequently asked questions, I’ll show you how to conquer the world’s railways in no time!

If you’re looking for information about subway and metropolitan train systems, check out the city-specific destination guides I have written. That’s where you’ll find all of the relevant information for public transportation systems.

How can I get my wheelchair on a train?

Train networks across the world, including Amtrak in the United States, can accommodate both manual and powered wheelchairs. Due to the gaps between the train and station platform, “bridge plates” and ramps are used to allow wheelchairs to roll smoothly onto the train.

Wheelchair Boarding Ramps for Trains

The image above depicts three different boarding ramp types used in train stations around the world. From left to right: Amtrak bridge plate; Dutch National Rail boarding ramp at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport; Eurostar boarding ramp at London St. Pancras station.

How can I request boarding assistance and ensure that it is provided?

I highly recommend that you purchase rail tickets at least 24 hours in advance of your departure, particularly when traveling internationally. I use two strategies, depending on where I am traveling:

  1. For domestic travel within the United States, Amtrak is the primary operator of rail services. Assistance can be requested at booking, directly through the Amtrak website. You’ll also receive a 15% discount on your ticket, if requesting a wheelchair seating space.
  2. For international travel outside of the United States, there is no single rail operator. This can make figuring out who to call difficult for wheelchair users. I prefer to purchase tickets in-person, at the train station, 1-2 days prior to my planned travel. In a pinch, I have gotten away with purchasing a ticket only a few hours in advance. The ticket sales agent at the train station can help you to place the request for wheelchair assistance. Many rail operators provide significant discounts to persons with disabilities, so be sure to ask about that.

Early arrival to the train station is important. You’ll need to contact the info desk to announce your arrival at the station. You will be instructed to wait for the assistance staff at the info desk or on the boarding platform. In foreign countries, where rail travel is more commonplace, there is great pressure for trains to depart on time. This means that rail operators and their station personnel dedicate extra attention to ensuring that wheelchair passengers are boarded quickly. I have had a few bad experiences, but nothing that has ever resulted in my being left behind.

PHOTO DESCRIPTION: Wheelchair space on an Amtrak train car.

Where do wheelchair users sit on the train?

Train operators around the world have removed seating rows or individual seats to allow wheelchair users to remain seated in their wheelchairs throughout the journey. Depending on the train car’s design, wheelchair users can often occupy a standard seat and park their wheelchair next to them or nearby if this is more comfortable. Amtrak trains in particular are well suited for wheelchair users to take advantage of either option once aboard. The photo above depicts the coach cabin of an Amtrak train car on a Northeast Regional route – the open space in front of the first row is reserved for a wheelchair. The power outlet on the train pictured is also available to charge your electronics or wheelchair during the journey.

Wheelchair users should be aware that securement hooks and straps are not usually available on trains, whether in the United States or abroad.

Are trains equipped with accessible restrooms?

Most are. The Amtrak, DB Bahn, Eurostar and Thalys trains I have traveled on have had restrooms large enough to accommodate me and my power wheelchair. Despite their larger size, accessible restrooms on trains will be a tight fit. Larger types of power wheelchairs may have a difficult time turning in place. They are typically outfitted with grab bars.

Subway trains and some commuter rail trains do not have restroom facilities for passengers, whether able bodied or not. Accessible restrooms on long distance trains are always located in cars with accessible seating and wheelchair spaces.

The following posts have appeared on my blog, and are related to accessible train travel.

Still Have Questions?

Post any questions you have about traveling by train with your wheelchair in the comments below, and I’ll do my best to answer them. Also share your own experiences here as well!