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Amtrak Reverses Course After Asking Disabilities Advocacy Group For $25,000 To Go From Chicago To Bloomington

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A trip from Chicago to downstate Bloomington should cost about $16.

But Amtrak recently quoted a group of advocates for people with disabilities $25,000 to accommodate their wheelchairs.

As CBS 2's Charlie De Mar reported, the trip was for an annual retreat. The group has used Amtrak in the past with no problem, but a new Amtrak policy also came with a new price tag.

"I mean, that's the price of a new car," said Adam Ballard.

Ballard works for Access Living, advocating for people with disabilities. He is trying to take an Amtrak train to Bloomington on Wednesday for a work retreat.

"Apparently, if you're traveling with a large group of people who need a wheelchair, you have to pay a huge premium," Ballard said.

When he and his colleagues saw the $25,000 quote, Ballard said their first reaction was "that has to be a mistake."

But emails between Amtrak and Access Living show it was no typo. The group wanted to travel together, but to do so, Amtrak would have to remove seats to accommodate the wheelchairs – passing the cost on to Access Living.

It is a new Amtrak policy.

"Regardless of what the technicalities of the law are, that just seems highly unjust on the face of it," Ballard said.

The five-figure quote got the attention of U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Illinois), who lost both her legs serving in the Iraq War.

On Twitter, she called out the chief executive officer of Amtrak, demanding a meeting to discuss eliminating their new policy.

"I think for myself and the other folks on our team, it was like we definitely have to take some action on this figure out what's going on," Ballard said.

For 2020, Amtrak received $2 billion in federal money. Last fiscal year, Amtrak spent $1 million on accessibility improvements.

"Through our advocacy, we create a world people with disabilities are treated the same as anyone else, right?" Ballard said.

Duckworth will get her meeting. Amtrak said in a statement they reached out to her office to set something up.

Amtrak apologized to the Access Living and will accommodate the group for the normal price. But it is unclear what Amtrak's policy will be moving forward.

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