December 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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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 email@example.com.
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.
There are many, many bicycle advocacy organizations, as well as other groups, pushing for roll-on/roll-off bike service on Amtrak, as well as commuter, light rail, and streetcar services. However, it seems there is very little, if any communication between these groups. I would like to see Adventure Cycling help initiate and organize a "Bikes and Trains" Umbrella Organization whose purpose is to create a continuous roll-on/roll-off transportation infrastructure for North America. As an example, check out what has been available in Canada since at least 2008. http://www.biketrain.ca/toronto-niagara
90 to 1800 new amtrak bicycle cars
98 silver metor 92 silver star 91 silver star
97 silver metor 89 palmetto 90 palmetto
they Need to put them on Train tracks on october 11 2015
On July 10, 2015 I checked two bicycle boxes for travel from Albuquerque, NM to Kansas City, MO on Amtrak's Southwest Chef #4. Initially I was complimented by the employee who processed my checked boxes and collected the extra $10 fee per box.
However, ten minutes before the train arrived I was called back up to the ticket counter by another Amtrak employee, and told as per "Amtrak policy" that I could not have anything in the boxes except the bicycle and my trailer. I had used some of my touring gear and clothing to pad the bike and trailer instead of using newspaper or other "recyclable" plastic products (that no recycling facility in my area actually recycles). The gear showed through the hand hold holes in the boxes.
I told the gal that I had read the published Amtrak "policy" several times and that there was no mention of this clause. She emphatically told me I had less than 10 minutes to take the non-bicycle gear out of the boxes or they would not load the boxes on to the baggage car. Then she told me my boxes were over weight. I weighed them carefully three times each and they were right at the 50 pound limit. Even if they were a smidgen over on the Amtrak scale, then I should have been able to remove a shoe and be within the weight limit. However, it was quite clear that there would be no discussion. The boxes were dragged outside the station on to the sidewalk and I was lent a box cutter to open them. I asked for a box that I was willing to pay for and given a very large plastic trash bag instead. At one point I was told I had to remove my rear touring rack from the box because it was "not part of the bike." I did not argue, because I was afraid that she would make me remove the fenders as well, and time was running out. When she wasn't looking I slipped the rack into the other box and sealed it quickly.
Looking more like a homeless person than a full fare paying Superliner Sleeper passenger I returned inside the station to the waiting area. With my full duffle bag and large trash bag full of touring gear I was now way over on the carry on limit. Fortunately, after I explained the situation to the Amtrak Attendant of my Sleeper Car he let me on board. Struggling to carrying all this gear I was barely able to squeeze up the stairs to my Superliner Sleeper compartment, but I made it. I was actually onboard. I sighed with relief. My relief was short-lived, because when I looked out the window I saw that my bike boxes were still at the station and the train was getting ready to leave. Finally the gal who invented the "Amtrak policy" drove the buggy with my bike boxes up the ramp. But she stopped at my sleeper! Now what? Fortunately my panic was unnecessary, because nothing happened. Eventually she continued to the baggage car where I hoped and prayed she would load my boxed bike and trailer onboard.
When we were rolling and a few miles from the Albuquerque station I called Amtrak and asked generically about the Amtrak policy regarding what can be put in a "bike box?" The representative checked one level above himself and said that any of the normal stuff that Amtrak allows could go into the box as long as the gross weight was no more than 50 lbs. Then I got specific to the situation I just describe above and he transferred me to a customer relations representative. That person listen to my tale and told me to call 1-800-USA-RAIL and hung up on me.
Unfazed, I made it to Kansas City with my bike and ExtraWheel trailer and completed a 1300 mile shakedown tour (including RAGBRAI) in preparation for doing the Pacific Coast Route in September and October. A little over three weeks later I uneventfully used Amtrak's Missouri River Runner with bike roll on service from Sedalia, MO to Kansas City. A day later I returned home on Amtrak's Southwest Chief #3 on August 4-5th. We did hit a semi-rig in Kansas, which put us 5 hours behind schedule. Interestingly, literally just a half block from the station in Albuquerque the train stopped and the engineer climbed out because his 12 hour shift was up. We had to wait for another engineer to walk out to the train and bring us into the station. Honestly, I was so glad that I wasn't flying in a plane when that happened!
As for me, I am not a spring chicken. My first long-distance bicycle tour was from Boston to Santa Fe, NM in 1974. I have travel extensively on public transportation in various parts of the world. I recently retired from teaching public high school so I am accustomed to dealing with the absurd. My grandmother was paranoid schizophrenic so I am also use to people talking to people I can't see. Nevertheless, this business of Amtrak employees making up and enforcing policies that are not published has caused me to reconsider how I travel to and from my touring destinations in the future. I know that some airlines counter clerks also "interpret" seemingly clear baggage policies regarding bicycles differently. Regardless, I think a clear message needs to be conveyed to Amtrak officials and perhaps to government policy makers as well, that if indeed they do want to encourage cycling tourists to use Amtrak, then clear directives need to come from the top. Those policies must be published and readily available online for travelers to fully understand the expectations ahead of time. I don't think I am asking for anything more than good business practices.
"Adventure Cyclist" Oct/Nov 2014 page 10 states "After seven months of preparation and planning, the Bicycle Task Force, co-led by Amtrak and Adv. Cycling, decided on two pilot project routes for testing roll-on bicycle service on Amtrak trains: The Capitol Limited, Chicago to Wash, DC and the Vermonter, St Albans, VT to Wash. DC. Teams are working toward starting service next Spring (2015)."
Would love to be able to use Amtrak to get to a bike tour. Perhaps NYC would be a good pilot as we have a large bike population. How about NYC to Vermont?
(My wife and I actually took Amtrak Empire Builder from East Glacier to Whitefish. We found the rules difficult to understand and didn't find we needed to box the bikes until almost train time.... Good thing the train was five hours late!)
Interesting that you would able to walk-on your bicycles on the Empire Builder. It is not listed as accepting walk-on's... If it does it would be most helpful for a trip we are planning (Great River route).
Hi... We were not allowed to walk the bikes on. We had to purchase bike boxes from Amtrak in East Glacier, and pack them for boarding. The train was five hours late (apparently common occurence) So we did have time to get that accomplished!
Will rollon be available on the Capitol limited at places with no baggage handlers? There are several towns serviced by the train without baggage service.
Any update on the progress of this movement? We are biking DC to PGH Sept. 21-25 and plan to take Amtrak down to DC. Would be great if we did not have to box our bikes up again like last year.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I have not used the train as if yet however I am a avid cyclists.
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
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?
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.
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.
As someone who had to try twice in January to take a bike
with me to Deland Fla. stop. Ahmen, roll on would have been
SO MUCH EASIER. The first attempt was the 5th I think when
the temp was -15f or something and all the airports closed etc.
The Senator was over 8 hrs late and they neglected to tell me
A:When it got there it was going to be converted into a bus.
B:Bus=no checked bags (no bike leaving Pittsburgh).
Ended up riding home in -30 wind chill 7mi @ 3am.
Most of the staff is nearly clueless and it took a rail cop to
clue me in to the bus != train as far as checked bags.
I can guess that the staff would have just NOT loaded my bike
and when I got to Dland I would have been stranded.
(or stuck with $75 taxi ride to s.daytona?)
I couldn't agree more!!!
Enter your email address and we'll send you an email that will allow you to reset it. If you no longer have access to the email address call our memberships department at (800) 755-2453 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This year I was very careful about what was in my bike box and about not coming too close to the 50 lb. weight limit. When I got to the station I informed the ticket counter clerk that I was still disappointed about my treatment last summer, but I was especially compliant this year. She told me that I deserved the harsh treatment I got last year. So I went on to tell her that I checked with Amtrak Customer Relations and that I was well within the Amtrak Policy as long as I stayed below 50 lbs. She responded that it clearly states on the Amtrak bike box (which I never buy) that only the bike can be in the box. I responded that written Amtrak policy supersedes what is printed on some old bike boxes.
When I got to La Junta, CO that evening. I asked about my checked boxed bike and duffle bag. I was told that it would be brought into the station and that I could claim them inside. When they did not appear and there was no visible action on the loading platform I sought out the Station Master. She jumped into action, because the train was about to depart. I just barely got my bike and gear even though I inquired about the procedure when we arrived.
At the other end of my recent tour I was on the Carl Sandburg and being told I had to remove the front wheel even though I paid for roll on service. I told the employee that it would require a special tool and I forgot where I placed it. Later when he saw that I was in the First/Business class car he told me it was all good and that my bike would be fine the way it was.
So, in 2016, it seems that every Amtrak employee can still make and enforce any random policy at will. Nice!
Needless to say even though I have enough Amtrak Guest Reward points to take a sleeper all the way to my next tour starting point, I will be shipping my bike by FedEx, and flying first class faster, cheaper, and more conveniently. The airlines can be fickled too, but there seems to be less randomness and more accountability.
I'll fly and ship my bike at the end of my upcoming tour too. I suppose I'll try Amtrak again in another year, but the progress is exceedingly slow...