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pilot test for roll-on bikes on Amtrak's Capitol Limited

This topic contains 24 replies, has 13 voices, and was last updated by  Marko82 6 mos, 3 weeks.

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roundabout

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Oct 10 2013 at 8:28pm #

Received a message tonight from the Western Pennsylvanians for Passenger Rail group that they are doing test runs of roll-on bike service on Amtrak’s Capitol Limited!! (Actually, my dad got it then sent it to me).

As of 6 pm tonight, the WPPR and Allegheny Trial Alliance were still looking for two test riders to go from Pgh to Connellsville with their bikes (you ride one stop, then you ride back to Pittsburgh on your own, via the trail), on Tuesday, October 15. The train leaves downtown Pittsburgh at 5:20 am.

As they will have four riders board at each stop to ride a segment, hop off, and then bike back to where they boarded it sounds like a test of racks like those discussed and pictured in a past thread (http://bikepgh.org/mb/topic/amtrak-now-permitting-bikes-on-mi-route/#post-281589). They may also be able to take a few folks as observers – you will have to follow some set procedures they will provide as a rider or observer.

If anyone is interested in seeing if there are any rider spots left, email wpprrail @ gmail.com . . . I would also suggest emailing them to ask to be on their update list if this is something anyone is very interested in advocating for this, future pilots, launch etc. I know there’s a couple folks who post/ask about this every so often.

thoughts I had about this . . . .

1) awesome to actually hear this is finally happening. we are way overdue for this on the pennslylvania amtrak lines – I think this is the type of thing that can really help revitalize and strengthen services here

2) curious as to how it will run when it moves into practice. will the 4-bikes per train really be enough capacity during the summer if this takes off? I Will you reserve your bike space when you buy your ticket?

3) while it would be great to see us get the custom cars they run out in california that hold a ton of bikes, that’s not realistically happening anytime soon for amtrak because they don’t have money for new rail cars for the east coast (unless the trail alliance buys the cars for them or something). It’s so good to see that they are finally, finally looking into making the equipment they have now work.


Vannevar

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Oct 10 2013 at 10:56pm #

I have volunteered, we’ll see what happens. Very very exciting.


Drewbacca

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Oct 10 2013 at 11:04pm #

roundabout wrote:3) while it would be great to see us get the custom cars

Word on the street is that they will be adding a dedicated car to the Chicago-Michigan route. For now, they just started (maybe not started yet) a roll-on service using space that used to have tables in the diner-car; I’m told that is only a temporary fix. I imagine that the Pgh-DC is likely having a trial of the same, so perhaps a dedicated car isn’t far behind. It’s obviously a popular route that cyclists would take given the option.


rsprake

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Oct 11 2013 at 8:25am #

Very cool!


StuInMcCandless

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Oct 11 2013 at 8:35am #

I too am in the first group, exiting in Connellsville, and biking back on the GAP. It’s an honor and a pleasure to be part of this!


buffalo buffalo

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Oct 11 2013 at 6:39pm #

too late for my friend who did this trip recently, but since the information doesn’t seem to exist anywhere else, maybe we can get it here–are cyclists allowed to bring trailers on train service, or do you have to mount panniers?


edward m

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Oct 16 2013 at 3:46pm #

Rolling on the rails, on the front page of todays paper. Amtraks usage is growing. This summer I attempted to board a Amtrak train on foot in Harpers Ferry with no ticket. The train was sold out so I kept on hiking to Cumberland. I got a reserved ticket on the phone and boarded the train to Pittsburgh. Get your ticket by phone or internet and you get a better price compared to paying when you board.


StuInMcCandless

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Oct 17 2013 at 4:18pm #

No, no trailers. Or tandems or unicycles or anything other than a standard bike. And it is not generally available yet, nor will be for a long while. This was only a test run to see if the ONE car they fitted with six racks would work, and that a half dozen people getting off and on would not hold up the train.


salty

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Oct 17 2013 at 4:40pm #

define “long while”.

could you leave your panniers attached to the bike or would you have to take them with you? or would you have to check them? are you on the same car as the bike so you can keep an eye on your stuff?


srpit

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Oct 17 2013 at 6:10pm #

salty wrote:define “long while”.

could you leave your panniers attached to the bike or would you have to take them with you? or would you have to check them? are you on the same car as the bike so you can keep an eye on your stuff?

Amtrak’s a government operation so “long time” could mean anything. A letter writing campaign right now could go a long way toward reducing the time frame. They explained that they would need to outfit eight cars in order to offer the service on this line. That’s the only way they can guarantee to always have the car available. That costs money and has to be prioritized with all the other things that cost money. So – it was suggested that the more public interest expressed in favor of this, the higher the priority those cars get.

No, you can’t leave the panniers on the bike. You can remove them and take them on board as carry on baggage so long as they meet the dimensions and weight allowed. If you’re going to a stop that has checked baggage service you could probably check them.

No, you can’t keep an eye on the bikes while the train is moving. The area they’re in is locked though, and I felt they’d be perfectly safe while in route. All the procedures are not in cement yet. I mentioned on the questionnaire they gave us that I would want some sort of procedure to guarantee that someone else couldn’t remove my bike at an intermediate stop.

I think Tuesday’s trial run went well. I’d love to have this service be implemented. If you’re inclined to write in support of it, the suggestions were to write to congressmen, senators and Amtrak. If you write to Amtrak, please include two extra copies and flag one for the attention of Harris Cohen and the other for Derrick James.

Amtrak Customer Relations
40 Mass. Ave., NE
Washington, DC 20002


Vannevar

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Oct 17 2013 at 6:57pm #

The security procedures during the demo ride had two components. (1) There’s a conductor present when you load/unload a bike, but as Stu pointed out you could board with a thrift store clunker and disembark with somebody’s high-end dream bike, so not a lot of help there, and

(2) you can lock your bike to the mounting rack, and that option was specifically provided in the text description of the briefing instructions. So if I’ve locked my bike to the wall, (through the bottom flip-up loop and then through the rear triangle etc) I feel good about bike security.

I don’t think you’d want to leave the panniers on the bike – the pannier mounts are really designed to carry the weight vertically not fore-and-aft, and when you rotate the bike up against the wall and then travel at high speeds for a few hours, that’s probably not what the pannier clips are designed for.

It’s not a perfect accommodation, but it’s “satisficing” – and it’s good enough that I’ll be happy using it.

Folks with tandems, long-wheelbase recumbents, trailers – they’re going to need to box those up, just like they do now. For a large majority of bicyclists this is an improvement.


Steven

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Oct 17 2013 at 9:46pm #

When I rode the Pennsylvanian recently, I was surprised at how short the stops were. At most places, the train stopped for 2 minutes or less. Any estimates of how long the stops were during the test? I’d think getting six cyclists off the train, into the baggage car, bikes removed/unlocked, all out through the door, then load six more bikes into racks and get all the cyclists into a coach, all that could take a fair bit of time. (Of course, most stops in practice wouldn’t have all that activity at once.)


roundabout

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Oct 17 2013 at 10:11pm #

The Pennsylvania runs northeast regional equipment, which are the single-level cars, no baggage car. The Capitol Limited is metro liner cars which are double decker, and they usually allow a little more time for boarding at each station because of that.

It is going to add a few minutes to the boarding, but in my experience, the conductors tailor the length of the stops on the Pennsylvanian to how many people are getting on/off. As long as they have a system for getting the bike car open promptly and getting folks going to it off first, it should not add too very much time.


salty

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Oct 17 2013 at 10:48pm #

Thanks for the info, I was mostly curious what to do with the bags on the train. I just did the whole trip and my bike was pretty heavily loaded (2 panniers, trunk bag, handlebar bag). Leaving them with the bike would be ideal since it would be tricky to handle all 4 bags at once but probably manageable if I attach the shoulder straps.

Of course, that’s only an issue when riding the whole trail. I think the real cool thing about this would be being able to do day (or overnight) trips and come back on the train, in which case I’d be packing a lot lighter.

I just hope that after all this waiting, a “long while” is measured more in months than years.


StuInMcCandless

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Oct 18 2013 at 1:28am #

Four minutes. Not even four, more like 3:45, from when the train came to a stop to when it was rolling again. Six bikes and riders off, six bikes and riders on and the bikes stored. Here’s the video of the Connellsville stop.

I think Amtrak’s biggest point to prove on this mission was the feasibility of getting people on and off quickly, i.e., not to add to dwell time. To that end, it worked.

In my survey text, I made the comment that this is really not that different from checking one’s coat at the theater. If a theater can keep track of 500 coats and owners, it seems simple enough to be able to keep track of six bikes and owners. But as @srpit says, the whole process isn’t figured out yet.


Steven

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Oct 18 2013 at 4:56pm #

Thanks Stu. I loved all the videos you linked on your blog, but I’ll quibble with one comment you made there. “The cost of retrofitting a couple thousand cars is probably a low-end eight-digit number, maybe $20 million.” I think you’re overestimating the cost.

Amtrak has 1455 passenger cars plus 68 baggage cars (plus it operates 124 cars owned by states). But it seems to me only a fraction of the cars on each train need to be converted, I’d guess no more than one out of four, perhaps more like one out of six. They’d only need enough so every train has a bike car, just like they include a cafe car or lounge car, so the required number should be comparable to the number of other specialty cars they own.

For example, they own 431 Superliner cars, the type used on the Capitol Limited and 13 other routes (including at least two that already take bikes). Of those, about 55 cars are lounges, 69 are dining cars, 125 are sleeping cars, and 47 are transition sleepers with bedrooms for the crew. Wikipedia suggests that of the remaining 159 passenger coaches, perhaps a quarter or a third are coach-baggage combination cars of the type converted for the test.

So there shouldn’t be any more than 350 bike cars needed systemwide, perhaps more like 250. But nine routes already take bikes, and those cars are already done.

I’d guess they need to convert 200-300 more cars to cover the whole system, at a cost of $1.6 million to $2.4 million if the cost per car is a constant $8000.


Drewbacca

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Oct 18 2013 at 7:43pm #

The Chicago-Michigan route is using converted dining cars… so they are clearly looking at multiple approaches depending on the route.

http://www.lmb.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=849

video


StuInMcCandless

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Oct 18 2013 at 10:56pm #

So much the better. In governmental terms, that’s a sneeze. The just-rebuilt-again corner of PA910 and Pearce Mill Road in Pine Twp cost that much. In Amtrak’s world, one locomotive costs more than that.


roundabout

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Oct 23 2013 at 11:27pm #

Thanks for the video stu!

I was curious as to whether they’d retrofitted the luggage area of a the superliner car or they were putting the racks in a separate baggage car. having it in lower level of the car the passengers are riding in makes much more sense – and explains the quick load/unload time.

The biggest factor, I’d think, is that if there are several bikes loading/unloading at a stop is that they’d want to make sure that other passengers board/unload from a different car.

I thought it was promising the the trail alliance alluded to a willingness to fundraise and sponsor retrofits for the capitol limited trains if needed, in the PG article about the pilot.


jonawebb

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Nov 11 2013 at 10:02am #

Trib published a letter:

http://triblive.com/opinion/letters/4921038-74/amtrak-bikes-bike#axzz2kLjBNI00


Vannevar

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Dec 29 2013 at 10:48pm #

This article: http://triblive.com/news/fayette/5301613-74/connellsville-trail-edwards#axzz2ovGNrNOX quotes the Connellsville development honcho as saying they’re expecting Roll-on Roll-off Amtrak service in 2014. Boy I hope he’s right.


Steven

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Dec 30 2013 at 1:46am #

I sent this letter to Amtrak at the end of October:

I was pleased to read of the recent tests of roll-on roll-off bicycle service on the Capitol Limited. I’m planning to make use of this service once it arrives, and hope it’s coming soon.

I hope you’re able to work with organizations like the Allegheny Trail Alliance to secure the relatively small amount of funding required to add this service.

Thanks for your efforts on this.

Last week I got Amtrak’s response in the mail:

Thank you for your correspondence we received November 5th, 2013.

We understand the importance of serving the bicycle riding public and Amtrak continually looks to expand our acceptance of roll-on bicycles on our trains. Today, we offer variations of roll-on bicycle service on the following routes: Capital Corridor, Cascades, Downeaster, Downstate Illinois, Missouri River Runner, Pacific Surfliner, Piedmont„ San Joaquin, and as of this week, the Blue Water. Yet we want to do more, including in the east.

In general, we organize our options based on the service type — corridor or long distance. Corridor service options are more limited primarily due to a lack of a Baggage Car. In the Northeast Corridor (NEC), for example, we regularly experience sold out conditions, and finding new space on the train for bicycles has been a challenge. We need to balance the goal of more bicycle space with our broader responsibilities in managing intercity passenger rail service. In addition to dealing safely with boarding, storing and securing the bicycles, for example, Amtrak strives to deliver the best possible financial performance.

In spite of these challenges, we are currently examining solutions for walk-on bicycle service for the Northeast Regional service in the NEC as well as for state supported corridor trains that operate in the region, including those in Virginia. One potential solution for this problem is to remove tables/seats from the Café Cars, which is being tested on the Vermonter and Ethan Allen. Of course, cafe seating is a valued amenity on our trains and we want to proceed carefully with this test to ensure that we do not adversely affect customer satisfaction.

Another possibility is to modify Coach Cars, which would be more costly, both because of the reconfiguration costs and because it would reduce the number of seats available for sale. This is not the preferred solution for these reasons. For any solution on our corridor trains, Amtrak and our state partners will seek to balance these challenges and determine if the customer benefit of additional bicycle capacity justifies the cost. Assuming that we find it does, we will then look to identify and schedule funding.

Again, thank you for your correspondence. We look forward to the opportunity of serving you again in the future.

I note that the Capitol Limited isn’t mentioned in this form letter. Maybe they sent me the wrong one.


edmonds59

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Dec 30 2013 at 8:25am #

For a form letter at least it’s pretty rich in information and reasoning, so I have to give them that.
It seems like there must be some number of people within Amtrak who want the system to work and be successful, but they must be working within an ossified culture of “that’s the way it’s always been done and it’s good enough”. Sad.


Steven

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Dec 30 2013 at 10:26am #

Not just that, I expect they have Congress looking over their shoulder for any sign of “waste”. Innovating requires taking risks, but taking a risk could get you called to testify if it doesn’t work out.


Marko82

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Dec 30 2013 at 10:47am #

I wonder if they cost justified putting those tables etc. in the lounge cars? or even if the lounge car itself was cost justified? I bet they put them in as a means of “customer service” hoping that that amenity would attract more customers. Why are a few low cost racks treated differently? If space is an issue add another car for a while and see how it works. What’s the cost of an additional car vs the costs of all theses studies, meetings, etc.? Sheesh!

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