May 3, 2016
Amtrak’s Caitlin Cooper, state liaison in Amtrak’s Sales Distribution and Customer Service Department gives a behind-the-scenes look at what it took to get roll-on bicycle service on the Vermonter. She has been managing Amtrak’s bicycle program since July 2015 and is acting co-chair of the Amtrak Bicycle Task Force, a partnership between Amtrak, Adventure Cycling, and members of the cycling community.
Last September Amtrak launched roll-on bicycle service on the Capitol Limited, which allows passengers to take their unboxed bicycles on and off the train at all station stops from Washington, D.C. to Chicago. Due to the route’s proximity to the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Towpath and Great Allegheny Passage trail between Washington, D.C. and Pittsburgh, roll-on bike service has been wildly successful from day one.
We are now excited to announce the launch of roll-on bicycle service on the Vermonter starting this May.
Amtrak’s Vermonter service runs daily between Washington, D.C., and St. Albans in Northern Vermont with stops in New York City, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. Reservations are required and there is a $20 bike service fee between Washington, D.C. and New Haven, and a $10 fee between New Haven and St Albans, Vermont. Customers can reserve bicycle space when booking their ticket on Amtrak.com, by calling 800-USA-RAIL, or visiting any staffed ticket office.
When we examined how to expand roll-on bicycle service on trains without baggage cars, we had to design a flexible solution without significantly affecting how those cars could be used on other routes without bike service. We also had to protect space reserved for customers with disabilities and avoid the removal of passenger seats.
As Debbi Stone-Wulf, Amtrak’s Vice President of Sales Distribution and Customer Service, wrote in a previous blog post, Amtrak’s core infrastructure, operations, and equipment still pose some challenges for offering bike service, especially roll-on bike service. Amtrak operates a nationwide rail network serving more than 500 destinations in 46 states, the District of Columbia, and three Canadian provinces on more than 21,300 miles of routes. In order to operate efficiently, trains on different routes share equipment.
What our industrial designers constructed for our Amfleet coach cars is particularly clever and we are excited to pilot it this spring on the Vermonter between Washington, D.C., and St. Albans. In each of the coach cars, the vertical luggage rack near the vestibule was converted into a combination bike and luggage rack. When this equipment is on the Vermonter, the conductors can convert the luggage towers into bike racks. If one of these cars is used on another route that doesn’t offer bike service, the racks can be folded down to accommodate luggage.
After boarding, customers will need to remove the front wheel of their bicycle and then place it on the floor beneath the bike rack. The bicycle is then hung from the back wheel and secured with the provided strap. Removing the front wheel is necessary so that the bicycle hangs flush with the back of the luggage tower and doesn’t impede passenger and crew movement through the train corridor.
Since these bike racks are located inside of the passenger coaches and not in baggage cars, we can offer bike service at all station stops along the route, not just from the stations that offer checked baggage. This will also be the first roll-on bike service in the Northeast. With the East Coast Greenway (among many other trails) intersecting or running along several of our routes in the Northeast, we are hoping passengers discover new ways to take train trips with their bikes.
A few members of Amtrak’s Bicycle Task Force: Ginny Sullivan (ACA), Caitlin Cooper (Amtrak), Eric Weiss (East Coast Greenway), Saara Snow (ACA)
I’m looking forward to the success of this pilot program and we will continue to work with the Amtrak Bicycle Task Force on gaining feedback from the cycling community and identifying new opportunities for expanding bicycle service. Visit www.amtrak.com/bring-your-bicycle-onboard for the most up-to-date, comprehensive information about bringing your bicycle on board select Amtrak trains.
Top photo by Chuck Gomez, Amtrak | Bike rack photos courtesy of Amtrak | Map by Adventure Cycling | Bottom photo by Saara Snow.
BUILDING BICYCLE TOURISM is written by Ginny Sullivan and Saara Snow of the Travel Initiatives Department and focuses on the growing national movement to build bicycle tourism, including economic impacts, bike friendly tips, multimodal travel, and resources for destination development and marketing.