When the Travel Bug Bites

by Bill Norman on Tue, 2008-04-08 17:00

Ride the silver rails

Richard and Susan Govoni of Cape Cod, Mass., are big train travel buffs, in part because they say air travel “has become a tremendous nuisance and hassle.”

Susan, who received an ALS diagnosis April 2007, and Richard find trains less congested, quieter and more convenient, even though “the journeys are longer and trains are notoriously late.”

The Govonis have traveled by train from Boston to Buffalo and Montreal, and from Montreal to Toronto, then on to Edmonton, Canada. The return trip home to Boston from Edmonton lasted 15 days. Some things they learned while riding the rails:

Ship Luggage. To reduce the amount of luggage they have to carry, the Govonis send clothing and medical supplies ahead to their travel destination via carriers like UPS. At the end of a trip, they ship clothes back home while they take the train.

Use power lifts. Some train station platforms are at the same level as passenger cars, so a wheelchair easily can make the transition between the two, but access to most train cars still requires a step up or two. A power lift then is needed to elevate a wheelchair user to car floor level. The Govonis found it’s important to call ahead to arrange for the lift, so the train doesn’t have to spend extra time in the station.

Love those red caps. “They’re an invaluable asset,” the couple says of red caps, otherwise known as porters. “At train stations they’ve been able to help us with preboarding so we were seated on the train with all our luggage and the [manual] wheelchair stowed well before any other passengers boarded.”

Conductors are pals. Train conductors are another important resource, the couple found. Their conductor agreeably called ahead to destination stations to alert red caps they’d be needed to help with off-loading a wheelchair user and luggage. Another time, their conductor willingly moved them forward to another compartment that was closer to the dining car.

Use the skinny chair. Susan traveled to meals in a slender wheeled contrivance called a “Washington” (or aisle or boarding) chair. It has no armrests; straps hold the occupant in place. People they encountered in hallways when headed to the dining car still had to step aside to make room, but the chair navigated passageways that would have been too tight for a standard wheelchair.

Additional resources

Whether you plan to travel by train, plane or van, these organizations offer valuable tips for travelers with disabilities.

Accessible Journeys
(800) 846-4537

Gimp on the Go
Reviews, tips, links for travelers with disabilities.

Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality
(212) 447-7284
Information on air, rail and bus travel, hotels and services worldwide for various medical conditions and impairments.

The Savvy Traveler: Disability Travel Resources
http://savvytraveler. publicradio.org/before/disability-resource.shtml
Now defunct, the Savvy Traveler was produced by Minnsota Public Radio for travelers of all abilities.  In addition to an impressive list of disability travel resources, the site archives past travel shows.

Travel/Mobility Resources
(American Association of People with Disabilities)
(800) 840-8844

Bill Norman
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