New Developments for Bicycle Services on Amtrak

Dec 4, 2013

“Roll-on" bicycle service and “Amtrak” are two buzz words that we’ve been hearing a lot lately, and we’re excited about the recent progress to make multi-modal travel more convenient and accessible for cyclists across the country. In this post we'll give you an update on the formation of an Amtrak task force to develop more bicycle services on trains, and tell you about the new spreadsheet that we’ve created to help facilitate bicycle travel on Amtrak lines.

What progress is being made to bring more bicycle services to Amtrak?

Amtrak is forming a task force with a variety of partners, including Adventure Cycling, state and national bicycle and passenger-rail organizations, transportation officials, trail groups, and bicycle planning experts to work towards the goal of expanding bicycle services on Amtrak lines. The task force will identify at least one pilot project to test roll-on bicycle service and will brainstorm tactics and strategies to make rail travel with bicycles as easy and convenient as possible. Our vision is to develop the potential connections between bicycle route networks and the Amtrak network to make bicycle traveling and commuting more fun, convenient, and accessible. It will open up possibilities for bicycle travel that couldn’t exist otherwise, and will encourage new demographics of people to travel or commute by bike. Take a look at this map to visualize how the Amtrak and the U.S. Bicycle Routes (USBRs) routes could intersect.

What bicycle services does Amtrak currently offer?

There are three types of bike services on Amtrak: roll-on, folding, and baggage. Roll-on service means you can put your bike on a train car without boxing or disassembly (sorry, typically not possible for tandems, trikes, long-wheelbase recumbents, or trailers). Folding bicycles count as one piece of baggage and are allowed onboard all trains as long as they are under the dimensions of 34" x 15" x 48". Baggage service means you can use a bike box bought from Amtrak or your own bike box and check the bike as baggage. It’s critical to note that even if an Amtrak line has roll-on or baggage service, it might not have the service at every station. It is possible to put a bike on a train as boxed baggage and then find that your destination station is not staffed and so you can't get access to the baggage car. The same situation can arise with roll-on service where only some of the stations on the line handle bikes.  

How do I know which Amtrak lines and stations have bicycle services?

Adventure Cycling has created a multi-modal spreadsheet that shows which Amtrak stations on which lines provide which services for bikes. The information is extracted from the Amtrak timetables and will be updated twice a year. Be sure to double check with Amtrak before making reservations because things do change in the six months between each new timetable publication.

The spreadsheet has an overview page listing the Amtrak lines that have roll-on bicycle service, how you can sort the timetable pages, general information about Amtrak policies, and how to download an Amtrak timetable as a PDF. There is also a list of key points for cyclists traveling on Amtrak. After the summary page, there is one page for each of the year's two Amtrak timetables. The pages are labled "1H" for the first half, and "2H" for the second half of the year, respectively. The most current timetable is always the second page. Older pages are "archived" for those who might want to see what changes have been made over time.

The multi-modal spreadsheet is an Excel spreadsheet, so when you have selected the "Home" tab, Sort & Filter is in the upper right. Choose "Custom Sort" and you will get a list of topics for sorting.

What are some challenges involved in making Amtrak more bicycle-friendly?

We've been working hard to shine light on the difficulties associated with bringing bicycles on trains and to start moving forward on practical solutions. Adventure Cycling's partnership with Amtrak and the pending formation of a task force is a huge step and demonstrates that Amtrak is ready to work on bringing more cyclists AND their bicycles on board. However, even with Amtrak's policy to accommodate bicycles where they offer those services, there are can be misunderstandings or gaps in communication about what is allowed. Elly Blue, author of Bikenomics: How Cycling Can Save the Economy, recently had a run-in with Amtrak staff who were unaware of their policy to allow folding bikes on the train. She publicized the incident on @ellyblue, her twitter account and Amtrak has responded directly. Incidents like Elly's bring greater attention to some of the inconsistencies and issues that bicycle travelers face and can help begin constructive conversations to resolve them.

Another challenge associated with roll-on bicycle service will be in utilizing the existing infrastructure (trains and platforms) which was not desiged for bicycle access. In addition, on sold-out trains it is difficult to make a case for removing seats to provide room for bikes. However, bike service can generate more revenue per passenger, particularly on trains that are not as busy. So, how does Amtrak meet the needs of the cycling community? What are the systems that can be put in place to accommodate bicycles while addressing safety and financial concerns?

How can I be involved?

Adventure Cycling’s goal is to build a long-term and mutually beneficial relationship between Amtrak and the bicycling community through participation in initiatives like the task force for bicycle services. We will serve as a resource for information regarding bicycle travel on Amtrak lines as well as a channel for feedback from the cycling community to help guide our work on the task force. As the task force is formed and duties are outlined, we’ll provide ways for the cycling community to weigh in. In the meantime, if you have questions or comments about our spreadsheet or bicycle services on passenger trains, please contact Kerry Irons at kirons@adventurecycling.org

Top photo courtesy of Matt O’Toole, Virginia Bicycling Federation | map courtesy of Casey Greene, Adventure Cycling Association | bottom two photos courtesy of Malcolm Kenton, National Association of Rail Passengers

BUILDING THE U.S. BICYCLE ROUTE SYSTEM is posted by Ginny Sullivan and Saara Snow of the Travel Initiatives Department and focuses on news related to the emerging  U.S. Bicycle Route System (USBRS). The USBRS project is a collaborative effort, spearheaded by a task force under the auspices of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). Members of the task force include officials and staff from state DOTs, the Federal Highway Administration, and nonprofits like the East Coast Greenway Alliance and Mississippi River Trail, Inc.

Comments

Paul Kobulnicky

There is no doubt in my mind that Amtrak should put all their efforts into one initial pilot ... DC-Pittsburgh-DC. If they worked with bus connectors to both the DC and PIT airports even better. One of the best bike trails in the US connects PIttsburgh and DC and the last step in making it an international biking destination is rail service to make it a trip serviceable from one or the other destination cities.

December 4, 2013, 11:49 AM
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Lucia

I couldn't agree more!!!

December 4, 2013, 7:11 PM
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Paul Guba

Obviously still in the infancy stage but I find this very encouraging. I live along an Amtrak route and there is a station I can take a connecting train to. The idea of traveling for a day or two and then pedaling home is very appealing. Thanks for the post.

December 4, 2013, 12:18 PM
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Chris Guevara

What about touring bikes? My dream is to ride a fully loaded touring bike to the train station and have it placed on the train without having to take the bags off. Would this be possible?

December 4, 2013, 2:06 PM
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Tori

Too bad Amtrak is not enforcing or communicating the policies that already exist. They tried to kick riders with folding bikes off a train as recently as this week: http://bikeportland.org/2013/12/03/citing-nonexistent-policy-amtrak-workers-haul-away-portlanders-bikes-98029

December 4, 2013, 3:07 PM
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Charles Pinkett

I have not used the train as if yet however I am a avid cyclists.

December 4, 2013, 3:08 PM
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Craig Gaevert

Unless you have a 'standard' bike these days you are SOL. S'pose you are disabled and need to ride a trike? How does that work? Seriously, Amtrak accepted tandems and other odd-shaped bikes until 2012 or so. It used to work - why does it not work now? Amtrak fails to understand just how well bikes and trains go together. That's a big hurdle to get over. Good luck.

December 4, 2013, 7:50 PM
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Rider

There are two different types of roll-on bicycle Amtrak service one (i.e. Amtrak Cascades) your bike is placed in the Baggage car by baggage handlers and your bike may be refused if handlers claim it weighs over 50 pounds or they think it is too big (this dimension is posted nowhere), or has accessories they don't like (porter rack in my case), The other type of roll-on service better known as walk-on (i.e. Auburn, CA) you place your bike in a passenger car, this has always been unmoderated in my experience, and free from the whimsical threats dished out by baggage handlers. Hope this project goes better than I imagine.

December 4, 2013, 8:23 PM
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Dave LeRoux

This is a great idea. Cycle from one station to another and use the train to take you through congested high traffic parts of the states.

December 4, 2013, 10:14 PM
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Mary E

My family of 3 have "rolled on" in the Willamette Valley. Bike hooks in the baggage cars. $5/bike. It was a slow day and they even took my BOB trailer on - no prob. My son, 13 at the time, loved it.

December 4, 2013, 11:23 PM
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Jim Guenther

I travelled this past summer from Denver to Sacremento R/T, on the Zephyr. I boxed my LHT with thier boxes. At both stations thier staff were most helpful. I check my panniers as luggage. Since I stayed in SAC a month, I shipped items both directions.

December 5, 2013, 11:45 AM
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Ed R

A decent start to this effort, one that indicate some real commitment by Amtrak, would be to fire all the petty bureaucratic capecious dweebs that make up rules as they go. Fire'en all and start over.

December 5, 2013, 9:34 PM
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Dan D

They took a step backwards recently. Previously I could get two official Amtrak bike boxes, place the tandem in one and and slide the other box from the other end, nesting the boxes horizontally. Now the policy is no tandems. Sad. Adds to logisticals. Also bikes or anything checked from Montreal to NY is prohibited. Always have a plan B ready when traveling on Amtrak. It is great when it works.

December 8, 2013, 2:44 PM
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Danny Dahms

Maybe if Amtrak had competition they would think twice at being jerks to poeple touring with bikes. On the other hand if they had a good marketing division they would look at what the Europeans Trains adopt bicycles and mirror their own program after them. This isn't rocket science stuff, but apeartly Amtrak hasn't figured that out either.

January 7, 2014, 1:31 PM
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James Schoettgen

Like the old joke goes, first place prize a one week trip anywhere Amtrak goes, second place a two week trip. The last time I checked with Amtrak about bikes there were only a few select stations that would accept bikes, they had to be boxed and there were only a few stations where you could unload your bike from the train. I would hate to have to plan a bike tour around Amtrak's policy. I just rent a one way car rental. It is not ideal but at least it gets me to where I need to go.. Maybe Amtrak will wake up one day but I think they need to completely start over from the ground up.

January 10, 2014, 6:29 PM
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