So I asked Amtrak (again)…
There was a little discussion on the board yesterday about taking an Amtrak trip to Philly, & bringing along the bike. I was going to do this last summer, asked Amtrak about it, and got the stock answer: no.
I asked again, yesterday, and a few minutes ago got an answer. Here’s what I said:
I asked this sometime last year, but a year has gone by, and I hope I can get a better answer. What I want to do is take a day trip from Pittsburgh to Altoona and back, with my wife, and bring two bicycles with me. Not taken apart, just roll them on in Pittsburgh (onto a rack in another car would be perfectly OK), and roll off with them in Altoona, repeat on the return trip. Not being able to do this is what’s keeping me from making trips on Amtrak more often. If I have to make reservations for the bikes, to assure space both directions, that’s fine. If I have to pay a few bucks for the privilege, that’s fine, too. We cyclists in Pittsburgh are getting pretty good at mounting and dismounting bikes on city bus bike racks in a few seconds’ time. It can’t be that difficult to do the same in some kind of on-train rack. So, like, how about it?
…and again got a stock answer:
Thank you for contacting us.
Our bicycle policy varies by route. Unfortunately, that route does not offer this service. To review the bicycle policy on Amtrak.com please click ‘Onboard’ under the plan tab then select ‘bringing bicycles.’
Amtrak Customer Service
Thus it would seem that the Customer Service person perceived “Oh, bicycle question”, looked up Pennsylvanian, reply with stock answer “no”.
I found this, NARP, maybe they could answer “next step?”.
“A modern, customer-focused national passenger train network that provides a travel choice Americans want.
NARP is the largest citizen-based advocacy organization for train and rail transit passengers.”
Also found “Friends of Amtrak”
lots of government links, they might be interested in a constituency that might actually want to use a train.
I know I would love to take a train across the state. I have yet to try the Pennsylvanian seriously (I rode to Altoona from Latrobe and back as a day trip when I was a wee one). Frankly, I think more people would take the cross-state train if it were consistently only longer than a Turnpike trip by like one, maybe two hours and if there was more than one train offered per day. If the route could accommodate bikes that would be spectacular.
I guess I find it surprising as to why the rail infrastructure is so outdated between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg when compared to Harrisburg-Philly. I guess it’s a matter of cost and demand, but as a pure transit market (total travelers) wouldn’t Pgh-Philly be bigger than Philly-Harrisburg?
Harrisburg is probably more popular because it’s a good midway point. I know my sis often takes the train from NYC to HBG for the holidays and my folks drive out from Latrobe to pick her up there… Doesn’t make total sense to me, but I think some people from DC and other places to some extent consider HBG a hub or something. I think PGH-PHL is pretty long and expensive. Too bad about Amtrak not further expanding the bike policy. This is one of many times in which I wish we were more like Europe.
Text of message sent to Amtrak and NARP, with minor adjustments;
“I am a member of a bicycle advocacy group in Pittsburgh, and we have been having a discussion currently as to why Amtrak makes it so prohibitive to take a bicycle on a train without dissassembling it and boxing it as freight. Many of our members express interest in using the train to travel cross country, and having the bike as transportation on the other end. However, dissassembly and boxing make that an unrealistic scenario.
The bike to train to bike is a natural and perfect intermodal scenario, yet Amtrak seems oblivious to this obvious pairing, indeed, places a major obstacle to prevent this. It would seem to require almost no change to physical facilities to enable this type of usage, some simple storage space, and a simple policy change. Are there any ideas as to why Amtrak would be so averse to this mutually beneficial arrangement?
More importantly, do you have any ideas as to how, as potential rail users, we might push to change Amtrak’s policy to enable this usage? There is a large, and growing, bicycle transportation constituency who would quickly become rail supporters as well, if they found out that rail supported them. Thanks for any direction or assistance you might provide.”
A bit off-topic, but I would love to be able to take a train at night from Pittsburgh to Philly or NYC. Failing that, even a reasonable round-trip time for a day trip would help. My experience trying to take the train between Pittsburgh and Philly is that, all official schedules to the contrary, the trip takes a minimum of 9 hours, and often takes as long as 12 or 14 hours. This is actually one of the main factors that made me break down and buy a car in the first place ~15 years ago.
FWIW, I documented my one prior Amtrak experience, from Pgh to DC via Philly in May 2008, on this blog. Looks like the Pgh-Phila piece was about 8-9 hours, with several slowdowns.
I took the train last thurs with my bike down to DC. Cost me 5 bucks to put the bike on the train. No problems.
Monday, I got a call about my trip home. Train derailment, drip canceled. Sorry. No alternate transport, no anything, just “we can refund or reschedule”….
This is 100% what is the problem with Amtrak, it is not a serious mode of transport if there is a disruption and no alternatives given. It was kind of hilarious.
I feel bad for Amtrak, what a tough predicament to be in. The only real rail service in the country, and major corridors are still freight right-of-way (meaning freight gets priority, and those companies choose what/when to fix/upgrade anything involving those sections of rail)
So you get terrible rail, having to stop for others, and yet you are the most (only) choice anyone has, making those delays/cancellations that much more painful.
I keep hoping the Biden connection will turn things around, but it seems to be slow going. At least there is forward progress on the train front for the first time in ages.
That said, having spent time on the west coast and seeing what a positive infrastructure can be provided with rail + bike, I might be emailing Amtrak about the Pennsylvanian just to see it happen…
Steevo – did you have to box it, or not? That seems to be a big sticking point.
Yeah i have a hard case and it was my fancy bike.
In times past I have bought an amtrak box for my touring bike, where you only have to turn the stem sideways and take off the pedals.
@JZ, check out megabus. they’re supposed to be more comfortable than greyhound and you it seems pretty easy to score $1 tickets to NYC right now
Yeah Megabus is an outstanding deal, even if it passes through State College en route to NYC (I believe). However, what are the bike policies with Megabus? With Greyhound?
Also, on the note of the Pennsylvanian, I think a better investment of that train would be comfort, i.e. bike accommodations, wi-fi, etc. because I sincerely doubt much can or will be done to make the trip shorter or more reliable in the near future. Amtrak adding bike options is a reasonable request espcially with enough outcry. It’s a win-win even if it’s a slow train. And hey, we all know bikers aren’t pulled by the FASTEST way of getting somewhere.
Not sure the non east coast corridor trains have wifi, might want to check that. Even freaking east coast greyhound has wifi now.
The train is nice for a cyclist. Good sights, bottomless coffee for 1.75 and plenty of leg room in the viewing car.
Especially for touring cyclists. I took the train twice for tours because it would have been mad cash to transport the gear, especially if you plan on doing the GDMBR cause there are no airports near whitefish.
from FAQ section:
Can I take my bicycle on board the bus? .
Unfortunately megabus.com buses are unable to carry bicycles.
…but they also have a was this helpful/comments feedback thingy to respond to. More requests = more action?
Seems like there ought to be room for bikes on one of these things,
So, the follow up to my thoughtfully worded query about bikes on Amtrak, the response;
“Dear Mr. Edmonds:
Thank you for contacting us.
You may want to write a letter to your local state representative regarding your concerns.”
That’s it. They don’t want to hear anything outside their box. That is the sound of a dinosaur dying.
Contact this mad hatter as well as your local yocal.
Who knows, they might do something about it and not screw it up…
After several e-mails and phone calls to Amtrak about this I concluded that for some reason they weren’t even working on it. European mindset this ain’t.
After arriving home at 1am last trip as a result of a 4 hour late train, I said ‘to heck with them’ and bought a motorcycle.
@edmunds “You may want to write a letter to your local state representative regarding your concerns.”
You might want to take them at their word on that. Sounds like: “Dude, we can’t spend a dime, unless the politicans go for it”
On my own, I would not have guessed the local state representative would be the one to contact. I would have thought “congressman”.
Actually the guy that sloaps linked is on the transportation commitee, rail specifically, so, bingo. Thanks.
If any of these people step up, I would feel like I have to step up and take a rail trip. Anybody want to take a rail trip to the city of buttery love and hit it with a thousand BikePgh stickies?
“You may want to write a letter to your local state representative regarding your concerns.”
This is why they fail.
“Continued Fail” Department:
Just got another email from Amtrak, in which was quoted my original email. Someone is obviously just pushing buttons with no thought involved at all.
Thank you for contacting us. We apologize for the problems that occurred on your recent trip.
We have forwarded your e-mail to our Customer Relations Department.
If you need immediate assistance, please call our toll free number 1-800-USA-RAIL (872-7245) to speak with Customer Relations. Press ‘0 to bypass the automated system. Then ask for Customer Relations. Their hours are Monday thru Friday, from 7:00 am to 10:00 pm (ET).
We hope this information is helpful.
Amtrak Customer Service
Um, I didn’t take a trip?!
Edit: …but I’d like to think that maybe, just maybe, this is finally getting some attention. I’ll keep you posted.
Next you’ll get the message:
Did you know you can travel with your bicycle on many Amtrak trains? Please visit our website….
May 6 update: Actually, I did just get a follow-up email apparently written by a human being. The human doesn’t have a name, but nevertheless the message is encouraging.
Dear Mr. Strickland:
Thank you for your recent email contact.
We appreciate your enthusiasm about Amtrak travel. We are working diligently to improve the services we offer to our customers, and I hope that many will share your love of train travel. Comments we receive from our customers are very important to us, as these help us to calibrate the services we are providing and make adjustments where warranted. Unfortunately, we still do not have the capacity to carry bicycles between Pittsburgh and Altoona, PA. As information, we have entered your concerns into our customer database and that information is shared with the responsible managers for review and any consideration.
Once again, thank you for writing. We look forward to serving you future travel needs.
Amtrak Customer Relations
I, for one, am hopeful. I think this got the attention of someone a ways up on the food chain. Maybe if we keep after them, inquiring, actually bringing boxed bikes on trains, we might just accomplish something!
we still do not have the capacity to carry bicycles between Pittsburgh and Altoona, PA., what?
it’s a huge train, right? no capacity? I’m gonna stop by there and show them my bike, It’s not that big. You can take a car on the train to Florida, cars are real big and heavy and they have capacity for them, curious.
Has anyone taken their car to Florida?, maybe you have to take the steering wheel and tires off, and stick it in a box, I’ll check.
I have friends who have driven their car (loaded with bicycles) to Florida and then taken the train back from Florida to DC. Amtrak is happy to load a bicycle when it’s packed in a car–on that one train.
Reminds me of a joke from the halcyon days of the mighty Pennsy. Guy books a sleeper on a Pullman car from Chicago to New York. Sleep is disturbed by a bug of some kind. Writes angry letter to President of the railroad. Gets a beautiful letter of apology back that really makes him feel like they heard his concerns and will take appropriate action. Except..the secretary had left the note from the bosss paperclipped to the letter. It read “Send this jerk the bug letter.”
Still, Stu is probably right. If enough people want it it might happen…
timito, I’m guessing they don’t have three things they need:
a) An agreed upon rack to which to lock up bikes,
b) An information & reservation system to make sure there’s space available for N bicycles from Any Point A to Any Point B on Train X, and
c) An agreed upon handling protocol for ensuring that Traveler Q gets Traveler Q’s bike and only Traveler Q’s bike, at these stops.
The train is only stopped one or two minutes at some of these places. It might be a bit more difficult to do this than it might appear. It also wouldn’t surprise me that there’s some stuff we don’t know about (warring suppliers, union rules, handling non-standard shaped bikes, etc.)
The short answer is, every time you even think about taking a train ride with your bike, drop ’em a line and let them know they’re not going to get your business until and unless they allow bikes on the train.
Yeah, there are certainly some logistics to work out, how about half a train car with some bike racks to lock too, your responsible for locking and retrieving your own bike and sign a waiver saying they’re not responsible. What do they do in Europe?
For reference purposes, here is Amtrak’s bicycle page [link].
So, this is do-able some places. That tells me that a lot of the figuring-out work has already been done. What they need now is demand, and probably a few bucks for some minor infrastructure, i.e., bike racks.
Ray LaHood, are you listening? This sounds like low-hanging fruit.
June 25 update: PennDOT is pushing the use of Amtrak. Lots of greenwashing on the website, but not a word about bicycles.
This actually came from a tweet:
there was a time not too long ago, when you could bring a boxed bike onto amtrak. that was back in ’04 MAYBE as recently as ’05. that was back when there were two trains a day to philadelphia. both of these trains had baggage cars. when they downsized cross state operations they also cut out the baggage car. so its not just bicycles, if you want to move by train to philadelphia you’re out of luck too. the chicago to dc train still has its baggage car when it passes through pittsburgh, this is why when i raise a complaint they tell me amtrak can ship my bike to my through dc and it can meet up with me the next day in philadelphia.
so this is an issue more than just bicycles. what we need to see on this route is: a baggage car, more service and bike racks!
also: i don’t know if anyone heard, but some trail organizations for the allegheny passage have been making noise about amtrak installing bike racks on the pittsburgh to dc section of their route. since that train goes to chicago, this would mean bike racks between dc and chicago. this one looks like it might actually happen soon!
Topping this old thread, as I asked Amtrak (yet again) about roll-on service, both to Philly and to Chicago. This is what I said:
I am planning a trip from Pittsburgh to Chicago, and return, in mid June, and another trip, Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, and return, in September. In both cases, I would like to take my bicycle with me. Does either train have roll-on bike service, or do they have to be boxed? If boxed, is this likely to change anytime before my planned trips?
My willingness to consider Amtrak would be greatly helped by having roll-on bicycle storage.
Thank you for your assistance.
Their website lists a couple of routes with roll-on service, but as they do not refer to them by a readily identifiable route number, I cannot easily tell whether either of my planned trips are included.
Today is 4/26/2011. Let’s see what happens this time around.
Having moved to Philly last fall, I feel the frustration of not being able to bring the bike back and forth.
My job requires plenty of travel, with a stint in Long Island coming up this summer, taking Amtrak from Philly to NYC and the Long Island Railroad. While not a roll-on, roll-off solution, I’m going to give this a try:
Most of the Amtrak trains that I’ve been on seem to have an overwhelming amount of room, especially when traveling during non-peak hours. If you’re willing to deal with loading up a hockey bag, this may make this process possible, especially on those trains with no luggage service.
One reason there is so much service between Harrisburg and Philadelphia is that Amtrak owns the rail line. West of Harrisburg Amtrak uses another railroad’s track, and takes second place to the owners’ trains.
Also, and I hate to say it here, but Philadelphia and its extended suburbs are the most heavily populated part of the state.
I’d love to see more frequent train service between Pennsylvania’s largest cities, and to see bikes allowed on the train, but I don’t think it’s going to happen.
So this is supposedly the method that Amtrak uses for their email:
So President and CEO would be firstname.lastname@example.org
Another rumor is their telephone customer service and that you can reach the employee directory by saying “employee,” then try to pronounce “Joesph Boardman” correctly.
Not sure if this is true, found this online…guess you could try and see if it would work. Worth a shot!
Nov 3 2011 update: I never heard a peep out of Amtrak after my May email.
This thread crossed my mind a couple months ago when RubberFactory/Erica was planning her trip to Ohio. If she’d been able to take her bike on the 29 Capitol Ltd, she’d’ve been able to get within 10 miles of her destination. The Amtrak website says it doesn’t even have checked baggage on that train, and their bike page says nothing about it, either.
Two and a half years I’ve been after them, and still nothing. Why is this hard? If I was to shell out $1K or so to buy them a rack, and as a side benefit get to ride the system for a year, would that help them any? I’m sure a couple of people would go for such a deal!
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