Outside World

Roll-on: Amtrak to Allow Bikes

With new luggage racks, cyclists will be able to roll-on/roll-off.

Long-awaited news from Amtrak this week: New luggage cars, to be available on Northeast Corridor trains, will soon accommodate unboxed bicycles. It almost goes without saying that the addition of vertical-style racks opens a wide range of opportunities for commuters and mid-Atlantic region bike touring enthusiasts.

Amtrak said it will soon begin to introduce the new, bicycle rack-equipped baggage cars on all of its long-distance trains, and that during upcoming field testing, “the baggage cars will travel to Chicago, New Orleans, Miami and along the Northeast Corridor to undergo testing for speed, stability, braking and baggage handling.”

“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,” said Amtrak president and CEO Joe Boardman in a recent Amtrak blog post.

By the end of 2014, Amtrak said, the new baggage cars and luggage racks for unboxed bikes will be used on all 15 long-distance routes, including the Capitol Limited, which runs between Washington, D.C. and Pittsburgh. The bonus of that route is that is closely tracks the linked C&O Towpath and Great Allegheny Passage — a popular, 330-mile, uninterrupted, off-road, bicycle/walking trail that extends from the D.C. through Harper’s Ferry, Cumberland, and Frostburg — all the way to the Iron City. 

(On a personal note, I did this ride last fall, which was fantastic, but without easy train availability I had to work around another friend’s planned vacation to Pittsburgh, in order to hitch a ride home.)

“It’s great to have Amtrak understanding how important the bike tourism industry is,” Linda Boxx, board member of the Allegheny Trail Alliance, who has worked for years to persuade Amtrak to provide better accommodations for bikes, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Currently, Amtrak offers roll-on service only a few routes, and for now, those who took their bikes on the Capitol Limited were required to box them as checked baggage, which of course, required disassembly and assembly. And riders, as it has stood, could not disembark anywhere but Pittsburgh and Washington, because in-between station stops aren’t staffed with baggage handlers.

Last October, Amtrak invited 20 cyclists to take their bikes on the Pittsburgh to D.C. Capitol Limited train in a successful one-day trial of roll-on/roll-off service.