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Amtrak backs down from $25,000 train tickets for disabled riders

Amtrak reversed course and said two passengers in wheelchairs won't be charged additional fees for tickets between two Illinois cities. The rail service had previously told them that a pair of one-way tickets between Chicago and Bloomington would cost $25,000 rather than the usual charge of $16 per person.

The $25,000 cost was criticized on Sunday by Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, the first disabled woman elected to Congress, who on Twitter called the fee "outrageous." Amtrak had said it needed to charge more for the tickets because of the cost of reconfiguring a railcar to accommodate the wheelchairs. 

The issue arose when Chicago-based Access Living, a disability advocacy group, sought to book tickets for a group of 10 employees heading to a work retreat. Five of the workers use wheelchairs, but the Amtrak train only has three wheelchair-accessible spots, according to NPR. Amtrak said it would need to remove some seating to make room for the additional wheelchairs, and advised the group that the cost would be $25,000.

After the outcry from Duckworth and others, Amtrak apologized and said it would accommodate the Access Living passengers at no additional cost. 

"We assured them that as valued customers, we will accommodate all passengers who use wheelchairs aboard the same Amtrak trains they originally requested between Chicago and Bloomington-Normal, Ill.," Amtrak said in a statement to CBS MoneyWatch.

Amtrak also said it had contacted Sen. Duckworth's staff to schedule a meeting "as part of a further review of our policy of fees for situations where special reconfiguration of railcars is requested."

Access Living wrote on Twitter that it appreciates its staff will be able to ride the train at no additional cost, but urged the company to create a "long-term solution" so that other disabled riders won't face high fees. 

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