Monday, May 04, 2009

Let's Get Bike Access on Amtrak

Tomorrow our new statewide organization PA Walks and Bikes will be hosting the first Pennsylvania Bike Summit in Harrisburg. Harrisburg is one of the few lucky state capitals that is served by regular scheduled almost hourly train service a mere 4 blocks from the Capitol steps. But just about all of the attendees who wish to participate in the AM bike ride will be driving because Amtrak only allows folding bicycles on trains.

Photo Uploaded by Rich_C_W on Flickr



Amtrak Surfliner bicycle rack
Originally uploaded by Rich_C_W

Amtrak and just about any other non-bike friendly public carrier often come up with the same excuse for not carrying bicycles-not enough room on our vehicles. So perhaps our proposal should address those concerns:

1 - Perform an independent study on how to accommodate bicycles on existing equipment
2 - Require that all new or refurbished passenger and baggage cars are bike accessible.
3 - Require covered bicycle parking at all Amtrak Stations (even if it is a single rack under an overhang.)
4 - Offer bike rentals (or bike sharing) at the busiest stations.
5- Ask Congress to include a small funding set aside specifically for Amtrak bike access improvements.

Previous bike access negotiations with LAB, the East Coast Greenway Alliance and the State of Vermont resulted in temporary agreements, Eventually Amtrak pulled the plug on the deals.

Amtrak is nearly alone with its no standard bikes policy, only two commuter rail systems in North America VRE and MARC (both systems ironically serving Washington D.C) have outright bans on bicycles.

If Congress does not force the hand of Amtrak by tying funding to bike access in the next transportation bill then we as bicyclists should start to think about our legal options.

4 comments:

Dave T said...

Ironically, today (May 4) is the two-year anniversary since Amtrak revised its conductor rulebook ("Operations Standard") to formalize allowing Folding Bikes, which previously had been mentioned as allowed on the website but in practice prohibited by many conductors.

I'm personally at 295 round-trip commutes with my Downtube folder on Amtrak (30th Street Station to Paoli) over the past two years!

CostBenefitAnalysis said...

VRE allows collapsible bicycles. They're also run on a shoestring patched-together budget. For several years, they were running hand-me-downs train cars that they bought for $1 each from Chicago. You can see why bicycle access is the last thing on their mind.

"Space constraints" simply refers to the fact that the trains sell out at times. Nothing to do with bike racks, or lack thereof. NJ Transit, for example, allows bicycles on its trains. Most of its trains do not have bike racks. They prohibit bicycles during morning and evening rush hour.

On a commuter service, you can do a time restriction like this. On a long-distance train, such as Amtrak runs, this is a problem. A train that is wide-open when it leaves Boston in the morning could be every-seat-occupied by the time it hits Baltimore. What do you do then? Kick off the guy with the bicycle?

John said...

Agencies like Amtrak, MARC and VRE have offered a hundred reasons as to why they cannot allow bicycles, none of them have been based on any scientific analysis. What they should be doing is figuring out how they can. Everyone else is doing it.

Nia Wellman said...

I was planning a cross country bike and train trip this summer. We were going to stop in Madison, WI and in Pennsylvania. But, Amtrak does not allow bikes to load on unmanned train stations, not even boxed up. Frankly, trains are not an interesting travel option for bikers unless they are allowed to use the rural stations.
I traveled on trains in Switzerland this winter. The train workers there, got off the train at the unmanned and manned stations to help/watch people load. Trains often made large transfers of luggage (including bicycles) and people in just a few minutes. It is no wonder that our rail system is doing poorly if people do not have the option of bringing their bikes as a mode of transport when they get off the train.
If there is any hope of our train system becoming functional and efficient bikes must be allowed to board at all stations. We will not be using Amtrak until this is an option.