Roll on bike service for Amtrak trains?

My train travel is mostly limited to commuter oriented services that allow roll-on bike service, and I have only limited experience with long distance train travel. I’ve brought bikes on none of my Amtrak trips, though I probably would have if Amtrak’s bike transportation policy was a little easier.

Caltrain in the Bay Area and Capitol Corridor train between San Jose and Sacramento allow roll on service. That is, you can roll a bike onto the train without packing the bike into a box, nor is there any fee for this service. It’s all very easy for me to use.

This roll on service isn’t generally available on Amtrak trains, and some of my online bike hobo friends frequently press Amtrak on this issue. After years of asking, it appears there might be a little bit of traction from Amtrak.

From Adventure Cycling:

Imagine if you could roll your bike safely onto a train or into a cargo bay on a motor coach anywhere in the U.S. — just think of the travel options this would open up for bike overnights, weeklong trips or cross-country trips.

Amtrak, in particular, draws the ire of cyclists as it has cut back its roll-on services significantly over the last few decades.

But here’s the good news — Amtrak is showing signs of changing its mind when it comes to accommodating bicycles — and advocates and public officials are turning up the heat to speed the pace of change.

And from the League of American Bicyclists:

The Amtrak issue has perplexed cyclists for years. In the past, Adventure Cycling Association has had limited success engaging Amtrak officials, and state and local advocates have been stymied time and again by the fact that many of the rail cars are not made to allow roll-on accommodation. Stating safety concerns and lack of storage, the ability to travel by train with a bicycle is hindered by the design of the rail cars, the platform heights, lack of on-train storage and train schedules (stops can be less than 5 minutes in some cases).

But finally, a few breakthroughs are in the works. Amtrak officials are conducting a pilot plan for roll-on/roll-off services on the Capitol Limited Line between Washington and Pittsburgh. This will be an incredible service for people cycling the C&O Canal and Great Allegheny Passage. In New York, Vermont, and Michigan, Amtrak is working with bicycle advocates, rail passenger associations and rail authorities on roll-on/roll-off test runs.

Read more:

* Adventure Cycling: Exciting News about Better Bike Service on Amtrak.

* League of American Bicyclists “League News”: Amtrak — Let’s get rolling!.

7 Comments

  • September 5, 2013 - 12:56 pm | Permalink

    I’ve always wanted to get on the train in Chico, CA headed for Portland, 12 hours away so that I could ride home to Chico. Unfortunately, you can’t board the train in Chico with a bike because there’s no one there to ‘help’ you.

    It would be fantastic if this situation could change.

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  • September 6, 2013 - 11:32 am | Permalink

    I’m planning a ride on the C&O this October (2013) when I’d like to take my bike from DC to Pittsburgh and ride back to DC. Any possibility the Capitol Limited pilot would be in place by then?

  • September 6, 2013 - 11:53 am | Permalink

    That’s a really good question. The Adventure Cycling people can hopefully help you with that. http://www.adventurecycling.org/resources/blog/positive-amtrak-news/

  • Anonymous
    September 9, 2013 - 5:13 am | Permalink

    We did it (partially) in Michigan! Starting last Friday, the Blue Water from Port Huron (via Flint, Lansing and Kalamazoo) to Chicago and one train from Detroit to Chicago have roll-on bike service. The bike space must be reserved; the extra fee is $10.
    You may want to contact the League of Michigan bicyclists (www.lmb.org) for details of the effort.

  • Jack
    March 2, 2014 - 8:47 am | Permalink

    As of today, no changes by Amtrak to provide this basic service to cyclists.

    The Pittsburgh-DC route is an obvious one to provide walk-on-bike service. Towns with Amtrak stations between the two ends of the 335 mile GAP/C&O trails include Connesville PA, Cumberland MD and Harpers Ferry WV.

    The Capital Limited route also includes other major cities such as Chicago and Cleveland. A vast untapped market awaits Amtrak.

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