Amtrak Bill Clears the Way for Bike-Friendly Trains

caltrain_bike_car.jpgThe five-year Amtrak authorization that Congress passed last week includes a nice inter-modal touch. It states in no uncertain terms that funding can be spent on making trains accessible for bikes:

NONMOTORIZED TRANSPORTATION ACCESS AND STORAGE. — Grants under this chapter may be used to provide access to rolling stock for nonmotorized transportation, including bicycles, and recreational equipment, and to provide storage capacity in trains for such transportation, equipment, and other luggage, to ensure passenger safety.

Queens Congressman Anthony Weiner got the language into the bill after prompting from Transportation Alternatives. President Bush has not yet signed it into law, but according to the Times, the White House has signaled that he will.

"In the past, Amtrak has claimed that because the funding bill did not explicitly say that the money may be spent on bikes that they couldn’t make trains bike-accessible," says T.A.’s Noah Budnick. "Now it should be clear to the most bureaucratic bureaucrat: Federal money for Amtrak can be spent on bike-accessibility."

The bill does not mandate bike-accessibility, so riders will have to contact Amtrak to put it on its agenda. I know I’d like to bring a bike on board the next time I visit my grandmother in DC. A SmartBike location right at Union Station would also do the trick.

Photo of Caltrain bike car near Palo Alto: richardmasoner/Flickr

  • I just traveled by train with a bike on Amtrak and local Mass. trains. I have a bike bag where I can break down my commuter and “hide” it from conductors. This means a quick but messy tearing down and building up at either end. On that trip to Boston I took a photo of the MBTA car ( http://www.flickr.com/photos/29453408@N07/2890743312/ ) that was set up just for bikes and riders. I think the only mass transit way to go (Multi)-interstate with out breaking down your bike is by Chinatown bus. Which I find more risky than riding a bike on city streets.

  • “Queens Congressman Anthony Weiner got the language into the bill after prompting from Transportation Alternatives.”

    Kudos to Weiner, who I’ve slammed many times in the past.

  • I guess this is OK. But Amtrak has issues just doing the basics. How is this useful without more funding? Otherwise it’s just pretty talk.

  • Peter

    I have to agree Susan, Amtrak is dealing with a massive equipment crunch. With virtually every seat spoken for system wide where are they going to find space for bikes? There is no chance for Amtrak bike carrying until Congress forks over for new passenger equipment.

    Even then you can be certain that they will maximize seating over baggage, as they should, Amtrak’s mandate is intercity traffic. What the bill really should have funded is multi-modal cars for transit agencies where the bike-rail connection really makes sense.

  • While I agree Peter, Amtrak now has less reason to fight you when you want to bring your bike on, there is some room for some bikes on all cars. (Don’t know about the Acela cars though.)

  • anonymouse

    Amtrak has baggage cars, and used to have them on more trains than they do now. And even in the Northeast, they allowed you to bring your bike in the baggage cars, at least on the Adirondack and Ethan Allen back when those actually had baggage cars. I don’t think the actual baggage cars have gone anywhere, and they can be put back on trains, although not in the NEC itself as they restrict the speed of the train to 90 or so.

  • i hope that everyone who commented (and/or complained) here also sent a message to Amtrak encouraging them to take advantage of this provision.

  • v

    This is a good step.

    About a month ago, we wanted to bring our bikes on an Amtrak trip upstate. I’m not a long-distance cyclist, but the distances between the town, bed and breakfast, and nearby trails were short enough that riding wouldn’t have been a problem. To our surprise, Amtrak doesn’t accept bikes on that route. Which is too bad…I would definitely have paid a bit to get them onboard.

    Instead, I rented a ZipCar and drove. It cost a good bit more than the train + bike scenario, and while a good bit more convenient, I did miss out on that great country cycling feeling.

  • In 1998 I went to Montreal for a conference, and booked space for my bike on the Adirondack. I was looking forward to experiencing the Montreal bike lanes firsthand. A few weeks before the trip, I got a call from Amtrak telling me that the tracks were washed out along Lake Champlain and they would be bustituting between Albany and Montreal.

    I asked about my bike, and the person went and checked with someone and then told me, “Oh, I’m sorry, we can’t take your bike on the bus.” Gee, thanks.

  • dave bonan

    does this mean for ALL trains? when i went to burlington, vt, the train from stamford, ct had no baggage cars so i couldn’t bring it. i wound up boxing it on vt transit.

  • I think you can still box it and bring it now. Or like I said, make it look a little different than a bike, and you are in. I have always seen a ton of room for “tuba”shaped bags, plus room for other bags and passengers in wheelchairs if need be.

  • John Donahue

    I sent and received the following to/from Amtrak Customer Service…

    Dear Customer,

    Thank you for contacting Amtrak. We respond to online inquiries 7 days a week between the hours of 8 am and 11 pm (ET). You can expect a response to your inquiry within the next 24 hours.

    Please do not reply to this message.

    Sincerely,
    Amtrak Customer Service
    Subject: General Inquiries

    Name: John
    State: MI

    Message:
    I use my bicycle to travel in Chicago, when there to visit from Michigan. I have had to transport my bicycle by car and create arrangements with a local bicycle shop for storage seasonally (at a substantial cost). I would like to use Amtrak to transport my bicycle, using the Michigan service (usually between Battle Creek and Chicago). Is any planning or thought given to provide a means to transport bicycles? Here is an interesting blog entry that I found having to do with this subject: http://www.streetsblog.org/2008/10/07/amtrak- bill-clears-the-way-for-bike-friendly-trains/ I would very much appreciate feedback at your earliest convenience. Thankyou for your time.

  • Here’s the reply I just received from Amtrak…
    (pertaining to my inquiry last evening)

    On Dec 22, 2008, at 12:38 AM, Amtrak Customer Service wrote:

    Dear John Donahue,

    Thank you for contacting us.

    We do apologize but at this time we are to unable carry bicycles on our trains for your travel itinerary.

    We hope this information is of assistance for you.

    Sincerely,

    William
    Amtrak Customer Service

    _________________________
    My Reply…

    Thankyou for your quick reply.
    But your information, essentially is meaningless; I have that fact now.
    It would be more helpful if you would wait, do adequate research and inquiries, and then get back to me.
    I encourage you to do that, and actually be of help.

    John Donahue
    ***************************************************************************

    –Original Message–
    Date: 12/21/2008 9:01:26 PM
    To: egainmail@amtrak.com

    Subject: General Inquiries

    Name: John
    State: MI
    Country: United States

    Message:
    I use my bicycle to travel in Chicago, when there to visit from Michigan…

  • Mdambrosio

    This is obstructive. 
    Rip out six seats on each train, and, presto, you have a “bike accessible” train.
    Maybe Critical Mass needs to ride to AMTRAK, and demand the ouster of the New York regional directorship.

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