The Oregon Pacific Railroad and Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation earned Rogue infamy Sunday evening for kicking a woman off their Holiday Express train—all because she’s in a wheelchair.
Arwen Bird arrived Sunday eager to take the 40-minute ride along the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge on board the Holiday Express along the east bank of the Willamette River.
Bird, 34, arrived for the holiday excursion in her wheelchair. Her father and brother-in-law lifted her onto the train, where she sat with her 3-year-old nephew and year-old niece. But a ticket-taker ordered Bird off the train before the trip.
“A woman started yelling, ‘We have a problem, we have a problem,’” Bird says.
Bird says she and her family tried to persuade the ticket-taker to let her stay. Even though Bird’s $15 ticket (later refunded) included language absolving the rail foundation, owned by OPR, of all liability, staffers were adamant she could not ride.
“They said they didn’t have a way to get me off the train if something went wrong,” Bird says. “But…there were elderly people and babies in mothers’ arms on the train who aren’t much more mobile than I am.”
The real issue, Bird says, was discrimination.
“There’s this idea that if you call out certain people you create safety for the whole,” says Bird, who left the train with her mother. “There are more creative solutions possible.”
ORHF attorney Mark Hanson says his group is very sorry. OPR general manager Kelly Anable says the Holiday Express website notes wheelchairs are barred, which Anable says is “for everybody’s safety.”
But Bird says those rejecting her focused on the symbol of her disability.
“They kept referring to me as a ‘wheelchair,’” Bird says. “I’m not—I’m a person.”