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Bikes on Amtrak — Why Such an Ordeal?

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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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45 comments… add one

  • Right. It’s called a ramp and raised platform to let you roll the bike up to the train.

    It is pure bias and lack of interest that this isn’t solved. Sadly, in America, if you don’t generate lots of revenue, your nothing.

    Our only hope is to be seen as more lucrative than other train passengers.

    The same goes for getting respect on the roads. With cars, people see loan $s, insurance $s, maintenance $s, gas $s, etc.

    Bikes are antithetical to this. For good reason. The world cannot sustain the excess waste cars produce.

    Nevertheless, all of our current economic models depend on massive growth. Massive growth on a finite world is not sustainable. Find new models or don’t cut the space program cause we’re gonna need to grow out there.

    I vote for the former. Learn to live with less. Learn that life is richer with simpler, leaner, solutions.

    The bike is not a sacrifice. I prefer it. Until more come to similar states of mind they will view cyclists as a financial sacrifice. I think that is what you are experiencing.

  • Assuming that Amtrak doesn’t alter their bike policy anytime soon, I recommend getting a folding bike.

    http://tinyurl.com/yebfna4

    Editors note: this link shows Amtrak service in California where bikes are allowed to be stowed unboxed.

  • The idea of combining bikes and trains didn’t end in the fifties: it’s alive and well. Check out this video: http://youtu.be/RbtyLpfUVVw
    and
    http://pathlesspedaled.com/about/

    (I just wish I could do this as easily on my non-folding touring bike!)

  • I’ve used Amtrak for my bike and found it, considering the other options relatively convenient.

    By “disassemble and box it” you mean take the pedals off and roll it into a box. Not as complicated as you make is seem.

    The only problem I have is you can only bring a bike between two stations that have “checked baggage”. A bike car like you suggest would solve this problem.

  • I, too, found it relatively easy to carry a bike on the Acela. You don’t even need to check it. It’s a little trickier on the regular Northeast, but not impossible.

    I started by getting a “bike bag” at Performance. It has a shoulder strap. I removed wheels, skewers, pedals, rear derailleur, and handlebars, which required only an Allen wrench, and the bag has enough loose space for shoes, helmet, water bottles, etc. (Don’t forget to pack the Allen wrench.) Then you just walk on like you would with anything other shoulder bag. Not painless, but way better than flying.

  • Tom:

    Your point is well taken but I think you’re missing the point; for someone with some basic wrenching skills boxing a bike isn’t a big deal. Unfortunately, I know experienced cyclists that can’t change a tire. Boxing their bike isn’t an option. That’s a deal breaker and Amtrak needs to know that due to this silly policy, Amtrak, motivated cyclists and all the people jammed on the interstate highways are the ultimate losers.

    What your really missing, though, is that beside the hassle factor of boxing the bike, it makes their pricing uncompetitive. Either I bring a box to the station (tough to do if I want to ride my bike to the station!) or pay $15 for a box at the station,plus a $5 handling fee. Multiply this x 2 for my return trip. Besides the hassle factor, they’ve just added forty dollars to the price of my train ticket to carry my bike.

    Based on this, if I want to ride Amtrak to DC for the weekend and take my bike to ride around the city, my $53 trip now costs $93 – a 75% fare increase.

    Sorry Amtrak, but for $93, I’ll drive to DC with my bike on the Thule rack, park at the airport and ride my bike in. One lost ticket sale and one more car on Interstate 95. That’s a loose – loose for everyone!)

    I’m not suggesting we have a, “bike” car on the train. Current baggage cars are fine. If Amtrak wanted our business, they could solve this whole problem, like the Brits did 66 years ago (and for pocket change, I might add) by simply rigging a few hooks to the ceiling of existing baggage cars. Watch the video. Simple, functional and cheap. Great concept!

    Though as much as I want to ride with Amtrak, until they make it easy to do business for motivated cyclists like me – and their prices remain, effectively, uncompetitive due to their silly policies for carrying bikes – I’ll choose to spend my $$$’s elsewhere when I travel to DC, New York or whatever destination beckons. (Am I the only one thinking this way. Bet not.)

    Bon voyage, Amtrak……

  • I agree they COULD make it easier. But none of what I described is as difficult as changing a tire, and I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t defeat you if you tried. It is 5-10 minutes work, and I am by no means a bike technician. The bag is not cheap ($50-60?) but is pretty durable and should last many trips. I found the experience surprisingly easy and pleasant and would absolutely do it again.

    None of this is (or was) meant as a defense of Amtrak’s policies. I just think if you’re traveling with a bike the train is a good option – definitely better than flying, and on the northeast corridor probably better than driving. (And I am a fan of driving.)

  • It isn’t like their train cars are all full anyway, and, for now, you’d probably only have 2 or 3 bikes at a time on any given train so that they could easily accommodated. And please don’t make me take my bike apart

  • Oi vey. I ride the Pacific Surfliner all the time out here in CA and I guess I never realized how easy we Californians have it when it comes to bikes on trains. I usually just stow my bike inside the regular cars where they have the aforementioned hooks, but at least once I had to hand off my bike to be held in a regular baggage car (probably due to the regular racks being full). Did they have hooks on the interior of said baggage car? Who knows? All I know was my bike was in perfect working order after they handed it back to me…. from three to four feet above platform level. Head meet desk.

  • whothewhat:
    My point precisely. If rolling your bike onto the Pacific Surfliner works on the west coast, as it works in England, and works all over the civilized world, why can’t it work here in Virginia?

  • Good post. I, too am hoping for roll-on service soon. That was a recommendation for the Capitol Limited in Amtrak’s improvement report. Hopefully it will be soon in coming.

    I just want clarify about the difficulty in implementing some of the “easy” solutions suggested here.

    Baggage Car
    The baggage cars Amtrak uses on most routes were built in the 1950s. The newest among them was built in 1955, the same year as that helpful film you linked to. In fact, Amtrak inherited them from the various railroads that operated before Amtrak came into being in 1971.

    Now, that’s not to say that Amtrak could not modify them with bike racks. But the cars are about to be replaced, so there’s little incentive to spend a lot of money on them.

    Currently, Amtrak is having new baggage cars built. They should begin to replace the older cars within the next 2 years. I believe that some of these cars may have bike racks installed from the get go.

    Platforms
    The first comment here, from Jody Brooks, suggests that the solution is to just build a raised platform. That would not be cheap, since Amtrak has over 500 stations, most of which currently have low platforms.

    And it is not possible anyway. On any route where Amtrak shares the track with freight trains, the platforms have to be low. The reason for this is because freight cars are wider than passenger cars. Since the freight railroads own the tracks, they get to say “no” to high platforms.

    And there’s another problem…

    The railcars
    Amtrak operates several different types of passenger cars. For the purposes of this discussion, they can be divided into 2 categories: (1) High-Platform equipment and (2) Low-Platform equipment.

    The high-platform equipment is capable of using a high platform (like the DC Metro or stations like the Amtrak station at New Carrollton, MD). These platforms are about 4 feet above the rail, and allow customers to walk (or roll) directly onto the train without stepping up.

    Almost all of the high-platform equipment can also accommodate low-platforms. The Acela Express is the exception. It can only platform at high-platform stops. For the rest of the equipment, at a low-platform station, the same door is used as would be used at a high-platform station, but a staircase drops down. Passengers on the low platform (rougly even with the rails) have to climb 4 steps up into the car.

    The second category, low-platform equipment can ONLY serve stations with low platforms. Someone mentioned the Surfliner in California. Those trains have low platforms. The platform is even with the rail in height, and the door is a few inches above that, just one small step up. All of the cars that are low-platform only are double-decker trains. The pass through between cars is on the second level. It can’t be on the lower level because the trucks (wheels) of the car are in the way.

    The Capitol Limited, for example, uses Superliner equipment only capable of platforming at low-platform stations. But the baggage car is a high-platform piece of equipment. Amtrak does not expect riders to lift their bikes over their heads to place them in the baggage car.

    The best solution would be to have a space in a Superliner car for bikes. But the problem is that the lower level is small, and is generally where the bathrooms are located and also where the mobility-impaired seating is located. There are some Superliner cars that have a baggage compartment in part of the lower level, but there are only a few of those cars, and they’re used on routes where a full baggage car is not used (meaning that the space is for checked baggage).

    So, as you can see, there is no easy solution:
    1. Most baggage cars are high-platform only.
    2. High platforms can’t be installed on the freight lines.
    3. On the few low-boarding baggage/coaches, bag space is at a premium.

    The Surfliner (and California) cars were purchased with money from California. California wanted bikes to be permitted, and since they were spending the money, they got to specify about bikes.

    Amtrak is going to receive (in 3 years or so) new cars based on the Surfliner design for the Chicago-hub network.

    If Virginia was serious about this, they could get in on that order. But the catch is that those trains would be unable to operate on the Northeast Corridor above Washington DC, because it’s a high-platform only area (with a few exceptions).

    For the high-level trains (the Silvers, the Crescent, the Cardinal, and the Regionals, there really is no easy solution. Bikes will either have to be carried up (in boxes, by baggage handlers) or new off-line stations (on sidings off the main line, like at Greenbelt, MD) will have to be built with high-platforms.

    I hope this helps clarify. If anyone has questions, my email can be found by clicking my name at the top of this comment.

  • Matt

    Perhaps Amtrak might equip some of the new baggage cars with hooks and bike could be handed up – unboxed as shown in the videos. Or would it be too much to ask that Amtrak try a pilot project on one or two popular routes?

  • I am moving to Richmond VA from San Diego CA and am dreading the obvious reduction in bicycle friendly options. I just took my bike on the Amtrak to Santa Barbara and back. Roll on, hang up, roll off. Not available in the Richmond area it seems.
    I also can leave home and ride in any direction (except west) for many miles on roads with bike lanes. As far as I can tell from previous visits to Richmond, there are no bike lanes. I am terrified of riding under those circumstances. Hopefully I can meet people who can show me ‘the ropes’. Don’t want to give up cycling!! Thanks for listening.

  • There are 3 stakeholders at the amtrak decision table…

    1)Congress, who funds the money
    2)Amtrak management who spends the money
    3)Train Union Employees who get the money

    Nothing happens unless all three agree.

    The actual passengers are not at the table because their fare contribution is small relative to Congress’s funding. I don’t mean to be bashing any of the 3 parties at the table, they are each just doing what is in their own best interest. It is human nature.

    If you want something to be done, don’t waste time with Amtrak, make your plea to your congressman. This, and vintage of train cars, also explain why the policies differ by region.

  • WHEW!!!!!! I only came to this site out of cuiosity. I am currently between Roanoke and Lynchburg, Va., I am a VERY LONG distance cyclist, but was curious about going by train with my Bicycle.

    LOL, I think I will just ride the 210 miles to D.C. from my current location – right through Lynchburg and past the Amtrak Station. I know I am an exeption, but during 15 hours of daylight from mid May through mid July, I can do that ride from sun-up to sun-set. But as I said, I now I am an exeption (I bicycle over 10,000 miles a year – I am a mile-eater).

    Having my road bike hanging from a hook from the front wheel next to other SWINGING bicycles does not tickle my funny bone either. Call me stupid for asking, but are bicycles secured from swinging from the bottom? Expensive wheelsets being hit, or hitting something and getting out of true is not something I want to be thinking/worrying about while in transit.

    It’s a shame there are no cummuter trains here like the ones that operate between Trenton, N.J. and N.Y.C. for example. If there is space available (number of bikes per car not exceeded), you can just roll your bike onboard with you (no unusual bikes such as tandem or recumbent). But of course we can’t have that on the more plush and expensive Amtrak trips.

    Seems Amtrak in the State of Virginia is not interested in more riders or less vehicles on the road. I sympathise with those who can not/will not do a full day ride (or two, or three day ride) from Lynchburg to D.C. (about 180 miles), but I’m gonna do it. Actually my ride will be all the way to Philadelphia (370 miles in 2 – 3 days). Even if I take a room once or twice, it’ll still be less expensive. Sorry Amtrak. I do not see the initiative on your psart to attract riders. Or maybe you just do not like cyclists.

  • Hey Sean,

    I love your spirit. It reminds me much of Thoreau’s thoughts in “Walden” when he discusses that he would rather walk 30 miles to Fitchburg than take the train.

    “I have learned that the swiftest traveller is he that goes afoot. I say to my friend, Suppose we try who will get there first. The distance is thirty miles; the fare ninety cents. That is almost a day’s wages. … Well, I start now on foot, and get there before night; I have traveled at that rate by the week together. You will in the meanwhile have earned your fare, and arrive there some time tomorrow, or possibly this evening, if you are lucky enough to get a job in season. Instead of going to Fitchburg, you will be working here the greater part of the day. And so, if the railroad reached round the world, I think that I should keep ahead of you.”

    He pre-dates the bicycle by a few decades, but he would have been a fan, I’m sure.

  • Responding to Sean: my experience was that the bike hangs by the front wheel from the upper hook and the back wheel fits in a stabilizing bracket that keeps each bike from swinging, and I used a lock on it as well. but………there are only 3 hooks on each designated car on the train, and they are first come, first serve. I made it on first! So no, the bikes don’t bang together. FYI.

  • Thank you Jack for the interesting synopsis. But yes, I do have an intrepid spirit of adventure – especially when I have the time and the stamina. Fortunately, given the way it appears to be in Virginia, I have both. I wish others had the stamina and spirit, but as I said in my second paragraph (where I stupidly typoed), I KNOW I am an exeption. It does appear I will be doing the ride I spoke of, and I really do not mind.

    To further expand on my post for all others: From what I am reading, it seems the State of Virginia is particularly tough for cyclists where Amtrak is concerned, though to really check into it, I may just bicycle into Lynchburg to the Amtrak Station and get the skinny there. As I mentioned, I know of other trains (N.J. Transit for one example) where taking your bike is not a problem (as long as it’s a standard type pf bicycle), and you do not have to take it apart and box it up, or fold it (I will NOT buy a folding frame bicycle). I read a post elsewhere made by someone who claimed to be an Amtrak Conductor. He brought up a few things which would seem valid, but other services like N.J. Transit seems to have addressed the issues just fine. People rebutted (and of course any rebuttal or disagreement is deemed “whining” or “complaining” by many folks). The bottom line is Amtrak (among most other transportation companies) just DO NOT want to be BOTHERED with the hassle of cyclists. That is something I will ponder each time I see ads which are geared to encourage people to take public transportation to get some cars off the road. Unless there is a subway,or city bus which goes everywhere you plan to go, you may as well stay near the train station or rent a car, and VOILA, another car on the road – LOL.

  • Thanks Ann. I do not know where you had the experience where hooks are available, but that does not appear to be the case in Virginia (from what I have read). I also read that if you want to take your bicycle by train, you need to call for a reservation, so I do not see the need to get there first if I have a reserved spot. I figured there may be a way of securing the bike from swinging, but I had to ask anyway given I never experienced that (it may answer the question in the minds of others who may ask the same). It may be a good idea to put less elaborate wheelsets on the bike though (for riders who run with the expensive carbon fibre wheelsets or the like). While it is a fact wheelsets DO take a lot of stresses on the road, why add to that with other stresses by hanging the bike from, and securing against movement by the other? I’d rather that be done from aluminum alloy wheels costing a couple of hundred dollars than wheelsets well into the four digit figures. Hooks (rubber padded) are a good idea, just make your bike a bit more travel robust where certain possible damages will not matter as much or be as costly. Just food for thought.

  • Sean, my trip on the Amtrak was San Diego, CA to Santa Barbara, CA and back. I actually did a dry run the day before my trip and was told where to line up and that cyclists board first. No reservation was needed at that time. The Santa Barbara depot was not as organized as San Diego so there was no line, just first come, first served.

  • Okay, thanks Ann. I can not speak for California, though I have read that California is more bicycle-friendly than most other states where taking bicycles on Amtrak is concerned. I am in Virginia, and the issue with this story from the Virginia Bicycling Federation (“Bikes on Amtrak — Why Such an Ordeal?”) we have been commenting on deals mainly with Virginia. Happy riding and stay safe.

  • Congress has to make the change for Amtrak. We the People pay for Amtrak. A strong national bicycle coalition has to do get the ball rolling.

  • I was denied bike boxes on Amtrak in Santa Barbara for my tandem–even though I was told on the phone I could put two boxes together and travel with my tandem. They were rude at the station and I was stuck. Now that I am at home I see they have changed their policy in the last couple of weeks to never take recumbents or tandems boxed or unboxed.

    Is anyone challenging this new policy?

  • @Ann: bike access on the Surfliner in CA may be better because of competition from Metrolink and Sprinter on the same lines. Metrolink has always been bike friendly. Ridership and bike commuting spiked after the ’94 earthquake — way before special bike cars, or even racks — and you could just wheel your bike on and hold it.

    @Matt Johnson: you’re just restating what we already know — the usual bureaucrat objections and rationale. This is what we need to change! Help us keep fighting the good fight. We’re big fans of GGW.

  • I’m on the train now from NYC Penn station to Richmond VA. The special item chagrin was raised from $5 to $10 starting today.

    A new baggage policy will be in effect starting September 10, 2012. The key changes include:

    Each passenger can check up to 4 bags – 2 free of charge and 2 for $20 each.
    Each bag in checked baggage is limited to a size of 75 linear inches (length + width + height). Oversize baggage (76 – 100 linear inches) is accepted for $20.00/bag.
    Luggage must be checked 45 minutes prior to scheduled train departure.
    Rates for storage, parcel check will increase to $4.00 ($5.50 at New York Penn Station) per bag for each 24 hour period.
    Special item rates will increase from $5.00 to $10.00. Tandem bicycles and kayaks are no longer accepted.
    Each bag checked must be packed within a suitable container; plastic/rubber storage containers are prohibited.

  • Tommy:

    Thanks for the bad news! Clearly, our friends at Amtrak haven’t a clue.

    In the meantime, here’s Brit Rails response, some 55 years after making the movies to encourage bikes on trains:

    (British) National Rail encourages the integrated use of cycles and trains – two convenient and environmentally friendly forms of transport.

    (http://www.nationalrail.co.uk/passenger_services/cyclists.html)

    When will Amtrak get its head out of the sand? When it goes out of business? (Sigh….)

  • Has anyone considered a 20″ folding bike? They are pretty inexpensive and should fit / work as a carry on? Citizens has a $200.00 version with a travel bad (addl $29.00) that should work well.
    Sorry if I missed this in an earlier post.

  • Good comments here since I last posted. Good question by The Walkman. That question being “When will Amtrak get its head out of the sand? When it goes out of business?”. I doubt going out of business will get their heads out of the sand. I am 35 miles from the Lynchburg, Va. Station here, and have ridden over several times (I enjoy the round trip ride from here to Lynchburg). I could not get any indication of whether or not Amtrak will be more bicycle friendly here in Virginia sometime in the near future. It just seems like there is not really an interest to get more riders on the trains and fewer cars on the road. BTW: I in fact did my little ride from here to Philadelphia, Pa (370 miles) and enjoyed it very much. 30 hours saddle time, trip done in a day and a half. I had the time; I am a distance rider (though I appreciate the fact most are not); the weather was great, and it was the right time of year. Amtrak won’t let me bring my bike on the train. So I rode it. Took me longer to get there, but I got there and back. One way or the other, I’ll have my bike where I want it if I have the time :) . My point: Amtrak does not want to bother with bicyclists, I don’t want to bother with Amtrak.

  • Enough is enough… This issue KEEPS getting brought to Amtrak, and they just keep ducking it, promising action but doing NOTHING!!!… What is it gonna take to make this happen??? WE, THE AMERICAN PEOPLE subsidize Amtrak, yet they refuse to properly serve us!!

    AMTRAK, GET YOUR HEADS OUT OF THE SAND! CHANGE YOUR POLICY… START ALLOWING BIKES TO ROLL-ON/ROLL-OFF… NOW!!! NOT TOMORROW, NOW!!!!!

  • Looks like there are 600 folks on facebook who agree with us!

    https://www.facebook.com/pages/We-support-bikes-on-Amtrak/116500671738246

  • Well I wanted to ride the 4 AM train from New Haven to Westerly Rhode Island and ride the shoreline home. I guess this is not so easy to do.

  • Bike Vermont is working with Amtrak to have 44 brave cyclists to try roll-on service for a day::

    http://www.mountaintimes.info/news/breaking-news/2013/07/amtrak-offers-free-bike-travel-for-test-day/

    Check back for results!

  • I am currently mid-career and from the US. I lived in Scotland, UK for many years. (1972-1983, 1984-1987, 1990-1991. I went to high school and university there. I joined the youth hostel association there as well. I would often put my bicycle on the train and set off for a destination and stay at youth hostels along my route. This was a given. Even in the London area one can put a bicycle on the train. I feel the pain of those for whom having Amtrak carry their bikes in a wheel on wheel off manner and I regularly enjoyed doing that in the UK.

    To lighten the mood some I can share a funny story of one instance when I had taken the last train at night from Glasgow to Edinburgh, Scotland. I had locked my bicycle in the baggage car of the train and had accidentally left the key behind in Glasgow. The British Rail people were not overly enthused when we arrived and my bike held the train up at Waverly Station in Edinburgh while they thought of ways with the tools they had available to remove my bike from the window bar I had padlocked it to but in the end they came up with something. I can’t remember the solution though.

    Just wanted to say I empathize with your Amtrak dilemma and insert some humor.

    Hang in there and pursue the issue with US Congressmen and Senators and State Governors.

  • Apparently this isn’t an ordeal on the Amtrak Cascade line in the Pacific Northwest.

    http://bikeportland.org/2013/07/29/packed-with-bikes-amtrak-cascades-adds-more-hooks-to-its-trains-91138

    Are the folks in the Amtrak DC Headquarters asleep at the switch?

  • The basic problem is that we’re dealing with a large company/organization/entity…period. You want to revolutionize or change something, in a large organization, the default auto-pilot response is “No.” Any suggestion or innovation must clear layers upon layers of (ahem) “management,” with each manager fearful of not receiving the credit for the suggestion…or the blame should the suggestion contain challenges to be overcome, but more than that, the typical mindset is that no one has a vested interest in caring whether anything needs changing. I went to Amrak Express’ website to check the rates on shipping my bicycle. The website makes no sense; you must fill in a form in which you must state the number of passengers on board. Since when did cargo shipping require a passenger? Then…further down the narrative/text, hidden within a paragraph, the website says that all cargo, under 50 pounds, ships for $67. Isn’t that all we really need to know…regarding rates? It might be nice to be able to see the route and arrival/departure times, etc., of the shipment, but that’s apparently not possible. To get Amtrak to change this website to a more meaningful tool would be like amputating an arm or leg. It’s so ridiculous…yet typical of large organizations.

  • I agree with Dan Drew wholeheartedly about the default position being ‘no’ with one minor adjustment. It is not an issue of ‘large’ organizations, it is an issue of monopolistic or protected organizations, which by being protected, often become large. Apple, Amazon, and Nordstrom come to mind as really really huge organizations that do a great job responding to customer feedback and each are in very competitive situations.

    Amtrak is immune to competition because they run at such a loss that ticket sales mean almost nothing to them.

  • Dan Drew:

    I’m curious to know why you went to Amtrak Express (which is their freight and cargo service)? What we’re talking here is taking your bike along on your journey as opposed to shipping a bike by itself.

    Try this link: http://www.amtrak.com/bring-your-bicycle-onboard

    To your other point, I agree: large, monopolistic/ governmental organizations tend to be risk averse and not only is risk taking not rewarded, it is discouraged. You get no bonus if it works but if it fails, you’re out the door!

    I think that may have been the case with Amtrak and bikes, ” Why bother? Hopefully they will go away.”

    However, a number of Amtrak lines are under-performing and it appears Amtrak is beginning to realize they can grow business by actually trying to accommodate cyclists.

    Look at the West Coast with the Capitol Corridor (Sacramento to Oakland which has a dedicated bike car!) as well as on the Cascade Line which expanded their bike capacity this past July. This is profitable and they generate incremental revenue with each bike they carry.

    I think, too, Amtrak realizes that many cyclists are the kind of choice riders with great demographics who are willing to spend more (business class, sleepers) increasing their total revenue per person.

    Most importantly, Amtrak, who is everyone’s favorite whipping boy, and as America’s transportation undergoes major changes (i.e. we’re showing less support in pouring money into wider highways and toll-roads) that the cycling community might be a potential ally to gain support (and funding) for passenger rail.

    This really is more complex than it seems at first blush and there are some legitimate issues about space, loading, platform height, reservation systems and connectivity between routes (you can’t leave your bike half way between point A and B!) but it seems Amtrak really wants to make an effort to solve this. It works in many other countries around the world we’re not starting from scratch.

    Getting seamless roll-on service will take time, but you can’t do this unless everyone is at the table and that’s where we are today. Fingers crossed!

  • TheWalkman was inquiring as to why I was interested in Amtrak Express. I will explain (and I apologize if my previous post expanded the subject under discussion from carry-on bicycles to shipped bicycles). I live in Walnut Creek California, my wife is a flight attendant, hence I/we get to fly free but…on a stand-by basis, and, following tax season (I’m a self-employed CPA), I like to ship my bicycle to some far-away city, fly myself to the destination, pick up and assemble the bicycle, pedal from point A to point B…generally over several days or a week, dis-assemble the bicycle upon completing the trip/visit, find a cardboard bicycle box, pack the bicycle and ship it home to California, then fly myself home. Over the past 33 years, I’ve done a nominal amount of touring, domestically, and, once upon a time, airlines charged nothing to let you check your bicycle box (containing your disassembled bicycle), then they slowly replaced “free” with an over-$100 fee to ship the bicycle; then, with the advent of Homeland Security, my bicycle box’s careful packing job would get destroyed. So, I migrated from the airlines to Greyhound, which was fine, except that the downside is/was that Greyhound ships on a “space available” basis (versus “priority”) anything traveling 650 miles or more, and most of my Greyhound bicycle shipments are trips of more than 650 miles from home. Space-available means that I cannot know the date certain that my Greyhound-shipped bicycle box will arrive at the destination, which means that my travel plans are up in the air until my phone rings with the destination Greyhound terminal telling me that my bicycle box has arrived, at which point, I have to scramble and get the next stand-by flight out of San Francisco, bound for the destination city. I recently learned that Amtrak can ship a bicycle for “cheap rates,” and that’s how I wound up on the Amtrak Express website. The only problem I have with Amtrak Express is my trying to make sense out of their fill-in-the-blanks cargo shipping form that requires me to show at least one passenger…when all I’m doing is planning to ship a non-human bicycle…in order to submit the form and get a travel itinerary printed. Amtrak’s $67 flat fee is ideal for me, considering my long-distance shipments. May2013, I bicycled Albany New York to Manhattan, down the Hudson River, 150 miles over 5 days (so much fun), and May2014, I’m planning a St. Louis to Chicago 300 mile trip over 5 or 6 days.

  • Thanks Dan. I now understand where you’re coming from.

    I’ve had issues with airlines and TSA inspecting my bikes and throwing things back in the box only to find my bike damaged, and no one taking responsibility. Not fun.

    Good luck with the paperwork!

  • I think it’s just another one of those things. It’s tiresome to hear about the need to get some cars off the roads while at the same time more and more difficlties put on those who would like to bring their bicycle. I suppose we are supposed to walk to the final destination (a mile, 10 miles,…..). Or make the cabbies more money. Some places have the share the bicycle thing, but that’s more money spent when you could otherwise have your own bicycle wit you (which you are used to riding and know well). I am not taking apart my bike and boxing it up. Amtrak can keep their tickets. They don’t really care anyhow. The train (N.E. corridor service to New York and Boston) that runs out of Lynchburg is always near full to capacity anyway, so they do not care about turning away cyclists. I have ridden the 370 miles (one way) on several occasions to Philadelphia (two days each way on average) and even continued to New York from there. I know not everyone has the time or training to do this. I am just glad I do. This has been debated for years, and will go on for years. Good things almost never happen, and take 10 years or more when they do.

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