During my recent trip to North Carolina for two college sporting events, I found myself in need of accessible transportation between Charlotte and Cary, North Carolina, a suburb of the state’s capital city of Raleigh. The trip was some 160 miles by car, which would have made it cost-prohibitive in a wheelchair taxi or non-emergency medical transportation. Flights were also out of the question, given the short notice and high fares.
Amtrak operates multiple daily services along the route, at a cost of $25 each way ($23 with the discount offered to disabled travelers). Amtrak’s Piedmont service travels between Charlotte and Raleigh, and the Carolinian service covers the same route, with service extending up the East Coast to New York City. I chose the 6:45 a.m. Carolinian departure, which arrives in Cary three hours later at 9:45 a.m.
Travel Between Charlotte and Cary on the Amtrak Carolinian
For travelers familiar with the Amtrak Northeast Regional service, the Carolinian is essentially the same. Six 1970s-era Amfleet I passenger cars are pulled by a locomotive (diesel from Charlotte to Washington, D.C., electric from D.C. to New York). In the coming years, the Carolinian will be outfitted with the updated Amtrak Siemens Venture Cars which offer dramatic improvements to accessibility.
Booking an Amtrak Ticket & Requesting Wheelchair Assistance
My one-way journey from Charlotte to Cary was booked on the Amtrak website, and I had a choice of coach or business class. The wheelchair spaces in coach and business are identical, and seating is 2×2 in both classes of service, which meant the only valuable amenity would have been complimentary non-alcoholic drinks. I booked coach and brought a drink of my own onboard.
The Amtrak website makes it easy to search for and compare fares, and to request disability assistance. Travelers who identify as having a disability during the booking process are entitled to a discounted fare (typically about 10% off the lowest standard fare).
For a one-way coach ticket, the cost was just $23 inclusive of the disability discount. I considered this a fantastic value given the high cost of other transportation options, and the fact that the train would take me directly to Cary, North Carolina.
Boarding the Amtrak Carolinian Train
For wheelchair users, a wheelchair lift is required to board the Carolinian train at both the Charlotte and Cary, North Carolina stations, where there are low-level boarding platforms. Disabled passengers should seek out an Amtrak employee in advance of departure to organize this assistance.
At Charlotte Station, I was among the first passengers to board using a wheelchair lift like the one pictured above (at Cary Station). My assistance request was noted and station staff were waiting for me on the platform in Cary.
Amtrak Carolinian Wheelchair Space
The wheelchair space on the Amtrak Carolinian service is large and I had plenty of room to park my power wheelchair and utilize features like tilt and recline for pressure relief.
Two standard seats, located nearby, may be used by other passengers when the train is full, however the seats were open during my journey. I spent a portion of the trip in those seats, which allowed me to stretch out a bit.
The wheelchair space includes a tray table and cupholders, as well as access to power outlets for charging a wheelchair, laptop or mobile phone.
For wheelchair users traveling together, the Amtrak Carolinian train has wheelchair spaces on both sides of the aisle, ensuring that you won’t have to be separated from a disabled friend or partner.
Accessible Bathroom on the Amtrak Carolinian Train
Unlike the larger bathrooms found on the Amtrak Acela Train and in the new Amtrak Venture Cars by Siemens, the accessible bathrooms in the Amtrak Amfleet I passenger cars are narrow, with no space to turn a wheelchair in the lavatory.
The bathroom door is manually operated, and requires some strength to open and close. Passengers may need to request assistance from Amtrak staff or another passenger to close the door once inside.
While a wheelchair can be pulled directly in front of the toilet, transferring onto it is challenging. The transfer is not a lateral one, but grab bars are provided on walls adjacent to the toilet, and there are other surfaces to grip onto as well. A photo taken inside the bathroom, showing my power wheelchair’s joystick and my knees is provided for reference to size.
The accessible transportation offered by Amtrak on its Carolinian train service made a seemingly costly trip affordable — a $23 train ticket versus hundreds for a private car service or airline flight was key to making this leisure trip possible.
Thanks to the Carolinian, I was able to visit Cary, North Carolina to watch my alma mater claim the 2023 Women’s College Cup national championship — a thrilling soccer match that I am sure to remember for years to come. This trip was more than getting from point A to B, but a chance to meet up with friends and experience the excitement of sport. I’m already looking forward to my next trip to Cary aboard the Carolinian (hopefully for another title game!).