With unstable gas prices and long lines at airport security checkpoints, rail travel is making a comeback. Both Amtrak and Via Rail reported significant ridership increases in the past year, while private rail tours and historic trains are also gaining popularity. Variety is truly the keyword when it comes to rail travel; and fall is prime time to experience these wheelchair-accessible rail tours.
Grand Canyon AdventureWith daily departures from Williams, the Grand Canyon Railway (tel. 800/843-8724; www.thetrain.com) offers passengers a look back at the old west, on a 2.5-hour trip through the high desert and pine forests to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. The vintage rail cars are pulled by a steam engine during the summer and a diesel locomotive the rest of the year. And even though this is a historic train, several classes of service offer good access for wheelchair-users and slow walkers.
The first class and coach cars are the most accessible, as they can be boarded by a portable lift and they all feature wheelchair tie-downs, nearby companion seats and an accessible restroom. The parlor car and the observation dome can also be accessed by a portable lift; however they are more appropriate for slow walkers, as there are no wheelchair tie-downs in the parlor car and the observation dome has seven steps to the top.
The railway staff is very accommodating, with on-board attendants on hand to see to your every need. First class passengers are treated to a continental breakfast on the way up and appetizers and champagne on the return trip; while soft drinks are served on both legs in coach class. Roving musicians entertain passengers with songs of the old west during the entire journey
This historic train trip can be taken as a day excursion -- going up and back in the same day -- or as a package tour with overnight lodging at the Grand Canyon and in Williams included. Accessible rooms with roll-in showers are available on both ends, and the folks at Grand Canyon Railway are great at accommodating disabled guests.
Railing Through the Canadian Rockies
Another great accessible rail tour is offered by Rocky Mountaineer Railtours (tel. 877/460-3200; www.rockymountaineer.com); where the focus is on the journey rather than the destination. Although the company offers a variety of Canadian rail tours, the Vancouver to Calgary Kicking Horse route, with an overnight in Kamloops, is the most accessible choice.
This multi-day, all-daylight excursion includes all on-board meals, ground transportation and lodging. Arrangements can also be made for accessible transfers to and from the Kamloops station, as well as an accessible hotel room with a roll-in shower in town.
A portable lift is available for boarding the domed Gold Leaf observation cars; and although there's a spiral staircase to the upper level, a small on-board lift is available for wheelchair-users. Because of the size of the lift, passengers have to transfer to an aisle chair for the ride up, and then transfer to a seat in the domed car. And although breakfast and lunch are served downstairs, arrangements can be made for meals to be served at your seat, if you can't make the trek to the dining area. An accessible bathroom is also located on the lower level.
The train travels through the heart of the Canadian Rockies before crossing the Continental Divide and rolling into Calgary. Wildlife sightings of moose, bear and elk are common along the way, and the on-board attendants provide a lively narration of the history of the region. It's just a very comfortable and accessible way to enjoy the Canadian Rockies.
Candy Harrington is the editor of Emerging Horizons and the author of 101 Accessible Vacations; Travel Ideas for Wheelers and Slow Walkers. She blogs regularly about accessible travel issues at www.barrierfreetravels.com.