It is now easier than ever for bike enthusiasts to travel by train with their bicycles. Amtrak and Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority hosted an early morning ceremony to announce the expansion of bike service on Sept. 19 at the Union Depot in St. Paul. The enhanced service will allow more people to travel with their bicycles with a trainside checking service in Amtrak’s national network that serves more than 500 destinations.
As a streamlined service for traveling with a bicycle, passengers are able to check their bike similar to checking luggage. Prior to boarding, passengers can take their bike to a staffed station, where a crew member will take the bike and safely store it on a baggage car equipped with a bike rack.
Previously, passengers were allowed the option to ‘box’ their bike. The service was offered in lieu of checking a piece of baggage and required passengers to supply their own box, which is available for purchase at most stations for a fee of $15. The issue was that the bike had to be partially disassembled to fit into the box.
Grilley said the boxing service was “not something for the average bicyclist,” since it required one to dismantle their bike by taking off its pedals and handlebars.
The only other option was to have a folding bike that could be brought onto a luggage car. Since the boxing method was a slightly tedious task, Amtrak wanted to provide an easier and hassle-free method of traveling with a bike.
“As a travel company, we are always looking for ways to respond to the needs of our passengers and provide the services that really amplify the travel experience,” Amtrak’s senior communications professional Kimberly Woods said.
Amtrak partnered with the bike community to create a Bike Task Force, which comprised of bike enthusiasts in communities across the nation. This task force allowed Amtrak to listen to new ideas and a fresh perspective on the subject and helped to understand the market of passengers who travel with their bicycles.
Woods said that Amtrak meets regularly with the cycling community to identify solutions and bring new ideas to expand services.
Some organizations for Amtrak’s task force include the League of American Bicyclists, Allegheny Trail Alliance, Adventure Cycling Association, and Virginia Bicycling Federation. The Bike Alliance of MN is a member of the League of American Bicyclists, a national organization that leads the movement toward a “Bicycle Friendly America” through efforts of advocacy and community engagement.
The trainside checking service first launched last year in a few select trains along the east coast. Since then, the service has been slowly implemented to a number of routes across the country. Although, the new amenity is only available on trains with baggage service. Stations that do not provide baggage service, like the Red Wing station, does not allow for this convenient feature and would require travelers from St. Paul to wait until the Winona station to get off with their bike.
The fee for this feature depends on the route but remains to be $20 or less. Advance reservations are also required since space is limited. Most trains offer six spots per train, though some offer 12 to 15.
Chairman of Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority and Commissioner Rafael Ortega said that its important to build great transportation networks because there are a lot of people that need access to public transit since this type of service may be their only means of transportation. He said its important to keep expanding and to meet the needs of customers.
The Union Depot ceremony began with remarks from the Minnesota Department of Transportation, Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority, and Amtrak’s director of long distance routes. The ceremony then moved out to the train platform for a demonstration of the new service, loading passenger bikes onto a train car of the Empire Builder.
The Empire Builder allows for Minnesota residents to easily travel to Chicago or all the way out to the Pacific Northwest.
Grilley said that Chicago was recently ranked as the most bicycle friendly large city in the country and this new service provides a seamless alternative of traveling to the windy city. Whether it be a business meeting or a weekend getaway, quick and easy access to a bicycle makes the trip that much more enjoyable.
The Empire Builder travels out to the Cascade Mountains and Glacier National Park, which Grilley said may be a popular destinations for cyclists. He also said many may want to travel out to Seattle or Portland on the Amtrak, which are also nationally ranked bike friendly cities.
“Customers can travel to a specific destination, get off the train and they can head right to a bike trail,” Woods said.
“I think its great. More and more young people choose to live in a city and use transportation options and not necessarily have a car,” Grilley said. “It’s certainly going to promote more bike travel and make things easier for touring bicyclists to urban bicyclists.”
To find the list of routes with the trainside checking amenity and more information, go to www.amtrak.com/bring-your-bicycle-onboard.