Amtrak Looks to Become More Bike Friendly

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

Bicycles may soon be allowed on Amtrak trains chugging through the Northeast and other parts of the country. It seems like a simple service to offer the multi-modal traveler, but currently bikes are only permitted on a few Amtrak routes north of Boston, or if the bike is disassembled and packed in a box.

Amtrak says it's testing new baggage cars fitted with bike racks on 15 long-haul routes to Chicago, New Orleans, Miami and the busy Washington-to-Boston corridor. Testing of these cars will stop by the end of 2014.

Eric Weis, the Providence-based trail program coordinator for the East Coast Greenway Alliance, said allowing bikes is a positive move by Amtrak, but he also noted that the limited availability of baggage cars — only two trains per day, one in each direction —  doesn’t do much for commuters or travelers making short trips.

“This step will not be terribly impactful on multi-modal commuting in the Northeast," Weis said. "Perhaps its strongest impact in our area will be on tourism."

Gordon Harris of Bike New England recalled parking his bike in a special onboard rack a dozen years ago on trains between Los Angeles and San Diego.

“We're long overdue for bicycle facilities on Amtrak in the Northeast,” he said.

The new bicycle service is part of a two-year plan for new baggage cars and revamped diner and sleeper cars. Amtrak won't say the cost for bike storage nor the specific train routes.

“It’s clear that Americans want a national system of intercity passenger rail and Amtrak is moving ahead to build new equipment to meet customer demand,” Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman wrote in a recent  blog post.

Other New England trains are generally more accommodating to bicycles. The MBTA commuter rail allows bikes on all of its commuter trains, with some notable exceptions. Bikes are only allowed during off-peak hours on most trains, including the Stoughton line, which runs from Wickford Junction in North Kingstown, R.I., to Boston's South Station.

The Shore Line East and the MTA's Metro-North Railroad in Connecticut also allow bikes. Although Metro-North does not allow bikes during rush hour.