What's Worse than Snakes on a Plane?

March 8, 2017

Bike boxes on a train!

Help get more bikes-on-trains access by supporting our work with Amtrak. So far, our partnership with Amtrak has helped make it possible for you to carry your bike onto the Vermonter and Capitol Limited, or hand your bike to a baggage handler on any of  Amtrak’s 15 long-distance routes with trainside check service.

The days of the bike box are numbered, but only with your help!

When you support bikes on trains, you make it possible to create new tools that help unravel the sometimes confusing, complex system of how and where you can ride the rails with your bike. Thanks to you, we recently created a listing (download with this link) of which Amtrak routes allow bikes. We also made an interactive map that lets you overlay Amtrak routes with Adventure Cycling and U.S. Bicycle Routes, so you can create the ultimate rail and road adventure.

Full steam ahead! Help us reach the goal of easy bike access to every Amtrak route at every Amtrak station by donating today!

Then, plan your next road and rail adventure with the help of Johnny Lam, Adventure Cycling tour leader and bike blogger. He posted the following blog last May to encourage people to make a plan for the 2016 Bike Travel Weekend. The 2017 Bike Travel Weekend is happening June 2–4.

Here’s Johnny ...

When bike tourists plan their trips, it often involves a plane ride or even a train ride to get to starting points or to return home. I take the train. Taking the train has so many upsides compared to flying or even driving. Trains typically have more space for you to stretch out, and you can enjoy walking through the cars.

I’ve planned my own trip to include train travel and you can too. Here’s how:

How to take Amtrak

Wondering how to travel by train? Check out this video I made that goes through each step in detail.

Step 1: Find the nearest stations with Google

Search Google for “nearest train station to [your location name/destination].” Once you have that information, you can go to Amtrak.com and buy your ticket.

Step 2: Buy a ticket on Amtrak.com

The next step is to go to Amtrak.com and buy either a one-way or round-trip ticket. In the video, I go through an example purchase where I show you what each field means and most importantly, how to add a bike to your trip. I then go through the process of reviewing an e-ticket you can use on the train.

Step 3: What to do on the day of travel

In the last step, I show you where to board the train and how to park and secure your bike and bags. You’ll see how Amtrak conductors check the e-ticket, as well as where to sit on a train. I also share some etiquette involved when traveling with your bike, such as letting other passengers get on or off the train first.

With this blog post, I hope you can find your own destinations to explore with the help of Amtrak.

Blog by Johnny Lam. Johnny resides in Los Angeles and produces weekly content related to bike touring for his blog, Milestone Rides. He traveled by bike down the Pacific Coast in 2014, across 10 countries in Europe in 2015, and led an Adventure Cycling TransAmerica Trail trip in 2016.

Top photo Yale Cohen | All other photos by Johnny Lam.

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The Thomas Stevens Fan Club is brought to you by the development team, Annette and April. They share an office with a classic Parisian Metropole bicycle. Want to know more about how you can support Adventure Cycling and all the amazing work they do? Call them at 406-532-2760 or email them at development@adventurecycling.org

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Comments

Dale

I appreciate the time that Johnny has taken, and his video has many good details. But this procedure is very specific to his locations and trains, and misses a critical step. You have to determine whether your trip will require boxing the bike. Not all stations, trains or bike types are accommodated in the way he's shown! Some trains do not accommodate bikes at all. Some trains and stations still require boxing, and some bike types (recumbents, splittable tandems, trikes) must be boxed and use a checked baggage station.

If in doubt, go to Amtrak.com and search on "bicycle". Or call 1-800-USA-RAIL and speak to an agent.

March 9, 2017, 10:11 AM
Reply
Sam Martin

A REALLY critical thing to research when looking for the nearest station is to see if it's a "baggage" station. Many stations do not permit baggage (bike boxes, checked bags, etc) to be loaded or offloaded. Learn from my mistakes!

March 9, 2017, 10:04 PM
Reply
Joyce

I hope this post will encourage more people to use Amtrak on their trips. I agree with Dale procedures are specific to each station. For example on my trip bikes are hung in the baggage car so you have to make sure your water bottles are empty. That being said I have always found Amtrak staff to be courteous and helpful.

And even if your route doesn't have roll on service if your stations have baggage service you can always check your bike as luggage. Or if you're not traveling with your bike you can send it as freight.

March 11, 2017, 12:35 PM
Reply
John Whisman

My wife and I rode the Amtrak 'Empire Builder' route with our bike for the first time in August of 2015. Our only previous experiences were having ridden the Alaska Railroad train, but, based on that, the impression from Amtrak was memorable in a negative way in comparison.

The beginning of the trip was fortunate for us as our bike was still disassembled and packed in its travel cases (it is a tandem bike). Upon arriving in Seattle after flying from Anchorage, Alaska, we were able to board and depart on time to Spokane; a 7-1/2 hours train ride.

What we experienced was enough for us to be cautious about using Amtrak in the future - the train was dark (small, heavily tinted windows), very dirty (large amounts of dust/lint in all the air ducts above and around the windows) and drafty. In comparison, the Alaska Railroad has always been bright and open feeling with large, panoramic windows.

On another trip in 2016, we investigated riding Amtrak 'Capitol Limited' from Washington D.C. to Pittsburgh after riding the GAP/C&O trails. This idea was immediately dismissed when we found out Amtrak has a prohibition on Tandem bicycles ("Recumbent, tandem and special bicycles over the standard bicycle dimensions and will not fit in a standard bicycle box are prohibited." per https://www.amtrak.com/servlet/ContentServer?c=Page&pagename=am%2FLayout&cid=1251621565020).

If Adventure Cycling would focus on getting Amtrak to clean their trains, quit prohibiting tandem bicycles and maybe upgrading trains to make them more comfortable and open, then I could support the use of Amtrak for rail trail. In the mean time, I'll stick to traveling on the Alaska Railroad.

March 17, 2017, 1:42 PM
Reply
Joe Putzer

Thanks for putting this together. Very helpful. How often is the spreadsheet listing updated? It seems to be behind with some station changes. West and East Glacier are good examples. In the spreadsheet these stations are listed as not allowing Trainside Checked, but in the interactive map they are listed as allowing Trainside Checked.

March 19, 2017, 8:22 AM
Reply
Saara Snow

Hi Joe,

The spreadsheet listing is usually updated 2x per year by one of our dedicated volunteers. The Glacier stations are an example of a small number of stations that are exceptions to the trainside checked rule - they typically don't allow baggage service but will allow bike service. This is because Amtrak recognized that Glacier is a big destination for cyclists and decided to make that exception. Thanks for pointing out that update, I'll get it on the spreadsheet. The other spreadsheet information should be up-to-date, but if you see any inconsistencies, let us know.

April 24, 2017, 11:16 AM
Reply
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