Amtrak recently unveiled a brand new rail car that could be the future of train travel in the United States: the Venture Car, produced by Siemens. The new trainsets debuted on Amtrak’s Lincoln service, which operates between Chicago, Illinois and St. Louis, Missouri four times a day in each direction. The Venture Car boasts major accessibility improvements over Amtrak’s aging rail cars, so I booked a trip to check them out firsthand.
The Siemens Venture Car is built by Siemens Mobility in California, and is based on an earlier platform widely used in Europe. Although deliveries for Amtrak’s order of nearly 100 Siemens rail cars are just beginning, the Venture Car was first deployed in North America by Brightline, an accessible rail service in the State of Florida. Amtrak’s Venture Cars aren’t nearly as flashy as those used by Brightline, but they maintain many of the accessibility improvements that have been celebrated by disabled travelers. Let’s take a look at the top three.
Wheelchair accessible bathroom with space to park a wheelchair alongside the toilet.
Legacy Amtrak trains leave a lot to be desired when it comes to bathroom accessibility, with their tight spaces and the inability to park a wheelchair directly alongside the toilet. The Venture Car eliminates many of those barriers with its spacious accessible bathroom.
Among the accessibility features of interest are space to park a full-size power wheelchair next to the toilet, grab bars on the walls adjacent to the toilet, a roll-under motion-activated sink and an automatic door with a push-button lock.
Here are some measurements of the bathroom features:
- Toilet seat — 18.5 inches
- Grab bars — 34 inches to the top of the bar
- Width of clear floor space between toilet and wall — 28 inches
- Sink height — 34 inches; with clearance 29 inches below
There is always room for improvement, and we’d like to see more space to maneuver a wheelchair, paper towels in addition to a hand dryer, and an adult changing table — why not?
32-inch wide aisles permitting wheelchair access throughout the train.
Imagine this: An Amtrak train with wide aisles that wheelchair users can roll from end-to-end and rail car to rail car. Dream no longer: It has arrived.
Universal design requires that disabled people be integrated into every environment — so, what better way to make a train inclusive than to make its entire length navigable by wheelchair users? The Venture Car offers that possibility, one that has been adopted by Brightline and now, at least in these first deliveries, by Amtrak as well.
The aisles on Amtrak’s first venture cars are 32 inches wide, a measurement that permits access to wheelchair users throughout the rail car.
It has recently been shared with me that Amtrak is considering reducing the aisle width on upcoming deliveries, a tragic decision that could restrict access for many. I’m hopeful that Amtrak will do the right thing by rejecting narrower aisles while protecting the freedom, independence and safety of passengers who use wheelchairs.
Spacious wheelchair seating area with a luggage rack nearby.
The Venture Car features a large wheelchair space that can accommodate most wheelchairs and scooters with ease. There was plenty of room to spare after I positioned my Permobil F3 power wheelchair in the space.
The wheelchair space includes two traditional seats, with seat cushions that fold up to provide additional room if needed. A luggage rack is located across the aisle from the wheelchair space, which is convenient. I was left wondering if some cars will provide two adjacent wheelchair spaces, given that disabled people (and wheelchair users) often travel together (or desire to, at least).
Passengers who wish to transfer from their wheelchair into the onboard seat should note that the seat cushion is 16.75 inches high. Although seats in the wheelchair space look like others onboard, there are some key differences:
- Power outlets are located beneath the seat — a location that is much more difficult to reach
- Passengers seated in the accessible seat pair will not have access to a tray table, as it folds down from the seats in front which are located far away. For wheelchair users approaching the tray table, there is 27 inches clearance underneath.
- Seats in the wheelchair space do not recline — Amtrak should correct this oversight with some urgency, as it significantly reduces comfort.
Other features worth noting
Amtrak’s new rail cars have some other exciting features and improvements that are also worth sharing. Chief among them, a built-in wheelchair lift on every rail car with a wheelchair seating space. The onboard lift will make boarding and alighting the train much easier at stations with low platforms.
Legacy trains feature (or used to feature) curtains to block the sunlight. The Venture Cars feature modernized window shades that can be pulled down with little effort. While it’s not a blackout shade, it will keep the bright sunlight out of your eyes.
Each car is outfitted with overhead LED displays that can relay important information to passengers in visual form, an important accessibility feature that benefits all passengers, but especially those who are deaf or hard of hearing.
With the Siemens Venture Car now rolling out across the Amtrak network, disabled travelers have a much brighter and more accessible future ahead. With its larger accessible bathroom, 32 inch wide aisles and a dedicated wheelchair space, the Venture Car is positioned to make travel easier for disabled passengers on America’s railways, from sea to shining sea.