Amtrak offers wheelchair accessible train service across America, with stations in 46 of the 48 continental United States. Despite being a lover of the world's railways, I've only traveled on Amtrak in the Northeast, Midwest and Pacific Northwest - never in my home state of Florida!For trips within the Sunshine State, I typically rely on Megabus, which has not let me down yet. But last week, I seized on an opportunity to ride Amtrak's Silver Star service from Orlando to Tampa, and back. The purpose? To have lunch with one of my college buddies, who I had not seen in nearly two years.
If you read my earlier review of Amtrak's Hiawatha Service connecting Chicago and Milwaukee, you'll discover that the Silver Star is quite similar in terms of accessibility. While the full Silver Star route runs from Miami to New York City, I was only aboard for a very short portion of the total journey. The trip between Orlando and Tampa is just over two hours, and there are some benefits to riding the train instead of the bus that I'd like to share here.
Tickets & Booking
Purchasing a ticket on Amtrak is easy, particularly when you use Amtrak.com. If you'll be traveling with a wheelchair, you'll need to notify Amtrak and request a wheelchair accessible space during booking. In the process, you'll receive a 15% discount on Amtrak train tickets - just for being a wheelchair user!
You can book your accessible journey right from the Amtrak homepage, pictured above. If you are traveling with your own wheelchair or will need any special assistance, be sure to select "Passenger with Disability (PWD)" from the drop-down menu on the booking form.
With this menu option selected, you'll be presented with another form that asks for information about your disability and needs. As you'll see in the screenshot above, I select the options that alert Amtrak I am traveling with my own power wheelchair.
Once you have completed this form, click submit. You will then be presented with a list of trains/itineraries to choose from. The 15% disability discount is automatically applied, and is reflected in the prices displayed. On this particular route, the coach class fare was only $10.20 each-way! What a bargain! For about $100, you can purchase an accessible room (with a sleeper bed), but this seemed unnecessary for a 2-hour trip.
Departure from Orlando's Amtrak Station
The Amtrak station in Orlando, Florida is wheelchair accessible and offers a few conveniences, including bathrooms and vending machines. There isn't a lot within walking distance of the station, but a food vendor does appear prior to every train arrival/departure.
There are only about four arrivals each day at the Orlando Station, separate from one another. Be sure to check-in at the ticket window, so the station staff time can prepare the boarding ramp or lift for your departure. Arriving 30 minutes prior to your train's departure is a good rule.At the Orlando station, a mechanical lift is used to assist wheelchair users in boarding the train. I snapped a photo of this lift, seen to the left. I was able to roll my wheelchair onto the lift (it has a ramp that folds down), and the station attendant elevated me for level-entry into the train car.
The same type of lift was used when I disembarked the train in Tampa. At many stations in the Northeast, trains are level with the platform, and a metal plate is used to bridge the gap (a "bridge plate"). The Amtrak stations that I have seen in Florida, however, require use of the mechanical lift. You can read more about different boarding techniques in the Wheelchair Users' Guide to Traveling by Train.
Wheelchair Accessible Silver Star Train Car
The entryway and interior doorways of the train are narrow, but are still large enough to accommodate my Quantum Q6 Edge power wheelchair. To ensure your chair will fit, Amtrak advises that it be no larger than 30 inches (76 cm) wide and 48 inches (122 cm) long.
The trains used on the Silver Star service are similar to those found on other Amtrak routes, but the seats are a bit fancier and have leg rests. The pictures below showcase the dedicated wheelchair area, which was more than enough space to park my power wheelchair.
I was allowed to remain in my wheelchair during travel, but I could also make use of the seats directly in front of/behind the wheelchair space. It is not possible to secure your wheelchair to the floor, but I have never had an issue with the chair sliding across the floor. Trains do not stop quickly, and the ride on rails is almost always consistent, smooth and safe.
Power ports are accessible and located underneath the windows, so you'll never run out of power for your mobile device or laptop. Silver Star trains are equipped with complimentary Wi-Fi service.
You can click the image to enlarge, and assess whether or not this facility will work for you. I have been able to make it work for myself, but others may have more difficulty. At the very least, I can say that it is larger than the wheelchair accessible lavatories on airplanes!
Arrival in Tampa
At just over two hours, the ride from Orlando to Tampa is fairly quick. There are two intermediate stops, in Kissimmee and Lakeland. Turn on your wheelchair travel playlist and enjoy the ride.
Within a few minutes of arrival to the Tampa Station, station personnel were ready to help me off using the same type of lift found in Orlando. I used the bathroom in the station and called a wheelchair accessible taxi to meet my friend for lunch.
We took a wheelchair travel selfie together, and I also snapped a #foodgram - the chicken & biscuits entree at The Cheesecake Factory was delicious!
After my lunch meet-up and a quick beer afterwards, I traveled back to Orlando, again onboard the Silver Star. My round-trip journey was comfortable. Amtrak trains offer space that you will not find on buses, as well as the convenience of an accessible restroom.
Being able to remain in my own wheelchair for the journey and take it directly to the onboard toilet made things much less stressful.
I love to travel by rail because of the facilities offered onboard, and the ease of getting from one place to another in an accessible way. On longer trips, there may be more affordable options, but a $20 round-trip ticket between Orlando and Tampa, Florida can't be beat!