Bikes on Amtrak — Why Such an Ordeal?

Help make Amtrak friendly for travelers with bicycles.  Please sign the petition.

Dear Amtrak: Cyclists like us want to help you be successful — if you’d only let us!
Amtrak and bikes
For several years, the Virginia Bicycling Federation has been asking Amtrak to make it easier to take our bikes on their trains.  We think its a win for Amtrak by increasing ridership, and a win for cyclists who would like to carry their bikes to destinations for touring, recreation, or making the final connection on their trips, excursions and vacations.

As things stand now, if a person wants to carry their bike on a train in Virginia, they must disassemble the bike and box it — a hassle at best, but a deal breaker for someone who isn’t handy with a wrench.   For someone not mechanically inclined, they would need to take a trip to a bike shop to break their bike down and box it —  which, of course, precludes riding your bike to the train station — and do the same at their destination.  A deal breaker for all but the most dedicated.

You then must pay a special handling fee to Amtrak to transport the bike.

Multiply all this by two for the return trip home.

I think most would agree this is a hassle.

We’ve asked Amtrak to reconsider their policy and carry unboxed bikes — heaven forbid — but have been told  they would need need new, high-tech baggage cars make this difficult situation work.

According to Jay McArthur,  Amtrak’s Principal Officer for Policy and Development:

Roll-on/roll-off bicycle carriage is not possible at this time on our Crescent and Silver Service routes which run through Virginia to and from New Orleans and Florida.  This service is provided on a small number of Amtrak services, primarily those where states have provided short-distance equipment that features low-level boarding and bicycle racks in cars that are accessible to passengers.  The equipment on these trains does not feature low-level boarding nor is there space for bicycles without taking away space already used for coach seats or racks for other passengers’ carry-on bags.  There is a baggage car, but the doors and floor of that car are three-to-four feet above platform level, the car is not accessible to passengers, and the car does not have bicycle racks

Fast forward to 1955.

(Go to 1:30 in the video for the innovative BTF bike storage solution.)

Adventure Cycling forwarded a link to an old British Rail Board video I had seen a while ago. Funny how British Rail solved this difficult problem 56 years ago.  What did these geniuses do to solve such a dilemma as carrying unboxed bikes?  As they tell us in their video, they put hooks in the baggage car:

“A properly equipped touring cycle can be quite a bit of expensive machinery… and the owner of such a machine is inclined to be fussy about how it is carried.  So what do the railways  do?  They hang it on a rubber covered hook… Because after careful investigation the Cycle Touring Commission of the International Touring Alliance decided this was the way to carry cycles by train.

bike train amtrak box

The cyclist hands his unboxed bike to the baggage handler

bikes on hooks on train

The handler gently places the front wheel on the hook

Note an entire baggage car filled with bikes? Does that help profits?

Voila: the BTF Bike Solution Circa 1955

A British Rail station filled with happy cyclists

Why, we ask, doesn’t Amtrak take a lesson from our British brethren in the fifties and make it easy to carry bikes on trains? Perhaps they would find, as in the BTF film, that their trains would be filled with happy, Sunday morning cyclists, enjoying a cup of tea and weekend excursion on Amtrak!

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  • Miracles do happen!

    September 21, 2016

    Trainside service available on select trains, reservations required

    WASHINGTON – Amtrak is offering customers the opportunity to travel with their bicycles on more routes to different regions throughout the U.S. Trainside checked bicycle service is a new amenity available on the Cardinal, Sunset Limited, California Zephyr, Empire Builder, Southwest Chief, City of New Orleans, Lake Shore Limited and Texas Eagle. This service is also new for Northeast Regional trains with baggage service – trains 65, 66 and 67 – for travel between Boston and Newport News, Va.
    Customers will be able to hand their standard full-size bicycle to an Amtrak crew member, who will then hang the item on a rack in the baggage car. This enhanced service is available at staffed stations that offer checked baggage.
    “Expanding bike service to other Amtrak routes creates more opportunities for customers to explore the nation by combining cycling with train travel for their journey,” said Deborah Stone-Wulf, Amtrak Vice President of Sales Distribution and Customer Service. “We now offer customers a number of different services to travel with their bikes across our national network.
    America’s Railroad® launched trainside checked bicycle service in 2015 and is available on other Amtrak long-distance and regional routes. During June, July and August, Amtrak carried more than 15,000 bikes.
    Customers traveling with their bikes should arrive at the station 45 minutes before the train’s scheduled departure to allow time to check in with the customer service representative, obtain a baggage tag and prepare for boarding. If equipped with large seat/saddle bags or panniers the items must be removed from the bike, consolidated, and checked or carried on the train. Reservations are required and customers must have a travel document (ticket) for their bike.
    A bike service fee will be applied and the cost varies depending on the route. Customers may reserve their bikes by selecting “add bike” when they book their train travel on, by calling 800-USA-RAIL, or by visiting any staffed ticket office.
    Amtrak stations with ticketing and baggage service that currently provide boxed bike service will continue to offer this amenity. Standard bike policy and charges apply on trains where applicable.
    “People traveling with bicycles will be thrilled to see the expansion of trainside checked service to these Amtrak lines, many of which go through major cities and scenic destinations,” said Virginia Sullivan, an Amtrak Bike Task Force member and Director of Travel Initiatives for the Adventure Cycling Association. “The service will give cyclists the ability to load or unload their bikes without having to box them and will make train travel easier with a bicycle.”

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