Bicycles & Amtrak

Discussion in 'Road Cycling' started by John Crankshaw, Feb 21, 2003.

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  1. I'm planning to travel to Minneapolis via Amtrak for a bicycle tour. Need to take my road bike.
    Traveling from Grand Rapids, MI through Chicago.

    Do I need to box my bike or can I take it assembled?

    John
     
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  2. George

    George Guest

    For some time I've been collecting information on user experiences taking bikes on planes, trains
    (AMTRAK), buses, boats, etc. There's lots of stuff on rentals, folding bikes, boxing, airlines, and
    railroads around the world and how to ride
    in/out of about 120 airports.

    See it at http://www.BikeAccess.net

    John Crankshaw wrote:
    > I'm planning to travel to Minneapolis via Amtrak for a bicycle tour. Need to take my road bike.
    > Traveling from Grand Rapids, MI through Chicago.
    >
    > Do I need to box my bike or can I take it assembled?
    >
    > John
     
  3. John Crankshaw:
    >I'm planning to travel to Minneapolis via Amtrak for a bicycle tour. Need to take my road bike.
    >Traveling from Grand Rapids, MI through Chicago.
    >
    >Do I need to box my bike or can I take it assembled?

    I'll explain the general principles first, then map them to the specific example.

    There are three possible ways to carry a bicycle on Amtrak trains:

    a. If the stations between which you are travelling both offer checked baggage service, you can
    pack your bike in a box and check it. The station is supposed to have boxes available that can
    hold a normal-sized upright bike with wheels in place but handlebars loosened and turned and
    pedals removed. You are allowed to provide your own box, of course. There is probably a handling
    fee of $5-$10, not so much because it's a bike as because it's bulky and deserves special
    handling, paid at the baggage desk. I don't know whether that fee includes the box. (Years ago
    the fee was just for the box, but that is no longer true.)

    b. A few trains, identified specifically in the timetable, are able to carry unboxed bicycles.
    Sometimes this means there is a special rack in the baggage car; sometimes a few special
    tiedowns in one or more coach cars. Again the mechanism is designed only for regular-sized
    diamond- frame bikes; it may nor may not work for recumbents, tandems, or other
    less-conventional shapes and sizes. Many of these trains are all- reserved (you must buy a
    ticket in advance for a specific train and date); in such cases you must also reserve a space
    for your bike, and there is a fee of $5-$10 per train. (And a special separate ticket coupon is
    issued just for your bike.)

    c. Many stations just don't offer checked baggage these days. Whether you are allowed to carry your
    bicycle on is up to the crew; there is no policy that says they must let you do so, and probably
    there is policy that says they shouldn't if the train is crowded or if they don't think there's
    a safe place where it can be stowed. If you have a big box that you can carry by yourself (even
    up the narrow steps into a standard high-floored coach), and lift onto an overhead baggage rack
    if necessary, it is more likely to be OK. If you are travelling at Christmas or (US)
    Thanksgiving or in July or August or any other peak travel time, it is more likely that you will
    be refused. It may pay to contact station personnel at the specific stations you will be using
    to see if they are helpful or grumpy (most are helpful if asked), to find out whether there are
    unexpected stairways up and down which you must lug your boxed bike in the station itself, and
    so on. Many stations these days are staffed only on certain days of the week or not at all,
    which may mean less help or just less interference.

    I have done a and b myself as recently as a couple of years ago without undue trouble. I've
    never tried c.

    On to John's specific trip:

    The train between Chicago and Minneapolis is type a: bikes must be boxed and are handled as checked
    baggage, and both stations handle checked baggage, so all is well.

    The train between Grand Rapids and Chicago is type c, however: no baggage car, no other provision
    for handling bikes. Grand Rapids is an unstaffed station, so there is no station agent to check with
    in advance. It might be worth while to go down to the station early some morning and ask the
    conductor, since he's ultimately the one who would decide whether or not to let you board, though
    there is no way to be certain that the guy you talk to ahead of time will be the guy who works the
    train on which you travel.

    I have heard tell that some of the station staff in Chicago get rude and grumpy at times, so it's
    possible that things would work fine on your outbound trip but you would have trouble boarding the
    last leg on the way back.

    If it is feasible for you to pack your bike into a smaller travel case-- the kind that looks like a
    large suitcase, and usually requires that both wheels be removed and packed separately into the same
    case--that might be the safest bet. If it just looks like a slightly-bigger piece of ordinary
    luggage, and you are obviously able to lug it yourself without blocking things, even the
    allegedly-grumpy people in Chicago are unlikely to give you a hard time.

    Certainly you might as well box the bike in Grand Rapids, since it will have to be in a box in
    Chicago anyway.

    I don't mean to be unduly discouraging; just realistic. There are legitimate reasons for even the
    friendliest and most helpful of crews to balk at bulky, unwieldy carry-on baggage that they don't
    think can be carried on and stowed safely; and there are certainly unfriendly, unhelpful people
    working on trains as well, though not many these days. When I brought my bike along sans box a few
    years ago on trains that officially allowed that, the crew went out of their way to help.

    I'd be very interested to hear how it goes.

    Norman Wilson Toronto ON
    --
    To reply directly, expel `.edu'.
     
  4. Thanks for the lowdown, Norman. I'll post the afterword afterwards.

    John

    Norman Wilson <[email protected]> wrote in message
    news:[email protected]...
    >
    > I'll explain the general principles first, then map them to the specific example.
    >
    > There are three possible ways to carry a bicycle on Amtrak trains:
    >
    > a. If the stations between which you are travelling both offer checked baggage service, you can
    > pack your bike in a box and check it. The station is supposed to have boxes available that can
    > hold a normal-sized upright bike with wheels in place but handlebars loosened and turned and
    > pedals removed. You are allowed to provide your own box, of course. There is probably a
    > handling fee of $5-$10, not so much because it's a bike as because it's bulky and deserves
    > special handling, paid at the baggage desk. I don't know whether that fee includes the box.
    > (Years ago the fee was just for the box, but that is no longer true.)
    >
    > b. A few trains, identified specifically in the timetable, are able to carry unboxed bicycles.
    > Sometimes this means there is a special rack in the baggage car; sometimes a few special
    > tiedowns in one or more coach cars. Again the mechanism is designed only for regular-sized
    > diamond- frame bikes; it may nor may not work for recumbents, tandems, or other
    > less-conventional shapes and sizes. Many of these trains are all- reserved (you must buy a
    > ticket in advance for a specific train and date); in such cases you must also reserve a space
    > for your bike, and there is a fee of $5-$10 per train. (And a special separate ticket coupon
    > is issued just for your bike.)
    >
    > c. Many stations just don't offer checked baggage these days. Whether you are allowed to carry
    > your bicycle on is up to the crew; there is no policy that says they must let you do so, and
    > probably there is policy that says they shouldn't if the train is crowded or if they don't
    > think there's a safe place where it can be stowed. If you have a big box that you can carry by
    > yourself (even up the narrow steps into a standard high-floored coach), and lift onto an
    > overhead baggage rack if necessary, it is more likely to be OK. If you are travelling at
    > Christmas or (US) Thanksgiving or in July or August or any other peak travel time, it is more
    > likely that you will be refused. It may pay to contact station personnel at the specific
    > stations you will be using to see if they are helpful or grumpy (most are helpful if asked),
    > to find out whether there are unexpected stairways up and down which you must lug your boxed
    > bike in the station itself, and so on. Many stations these days are staffed only on certain
    > days of the week or not at all, which may mean less help or just less interference.
    >
    > I have done a and b myself as recently as a couple of years ago without undue trouble. I've never
    > tried c.
    >
    > On to John's specific trip:
    >
    > The train between Chicago and Minneapolis is type a: bikes must be boxed and are handled as
    > checked baggage, and both stations handle checked baggage, so all is well.
    >
    > The train between Grand Rapids and Chicago is type c, however: no baggage car, no other provision
    > for handling bikes. Grand Rapids is an unstaffed station, so there is no station agent to check
    > with in advance. It might be worth while to go down to the station early some morning and ask the
    > conductor, since he's ultimately the one who would decide whether or not to let you board, though
    > there is no way to be certain that the guy you talk to ahead of time will be the guy who works the
    > train on which you travel.
    >
    > I have heard tell that some of the station staff in Chicago get rude and grumpy at times, so it's
    > possible that things would work fine on your outbound trip but you would have trouble boarding the
    > last leg on the way back.
    >
    > If it is feasible for you to pack your bike into a smaller travel case-- the kind that looks like
    > a large suitcase, and usually requires that both wheels be removed and packed separately into the
    > same case--that might be the safest bet. If it just looks like a slightly-bigger piece of ordinary
    > luggage, and you are obviously able to lug it yourself without blocking things, even the
    > allegedly-grumpy people in Chicago are unlikely to give you a hard time.
    >
    > Certainly you might as well box the bike in Grand Rapids, since it will have to be in a box in
    > Chicago anyway.
    >
    > I don't mean to be unduly discouraging; just realistic. There are legitimate reasons for even the
    > friendliest and most helpful of crews to balk at bulky, unwieldy carry-on baggage that they don't
    > think can be carried on and stowed safely; and there are certainly unfriendly, unhelpful people
    > working on trains as well, though not many these days. When I brought my bike along sans box a few
    > years ago on trains that officially allowed that, the crew went out of their way to help.
    >
    > I'd be very interested to hear how it goes.
    >
    > Norman Wilson Toronto ON
    > --
    > To reply directly, expel `.edu'.
     
  5. Jym Dyer

    Jym Dyer Guest

    > I've carried my Bike Friday on to the Coast Starlight as well as checking bikes in boxes as
    > baggage. The latest rules make it unclear if the Friday in bag would still be OK.

    =v= This is an ongoing hassle. Some Amtrak station agents don't know the folding bike rules and
    treat it as a non-folding bike, demanding fees and such. My strategy is basically this:

    o In a suitcase, check it; in a bag, carry it on (and put it in a safe place). o Don't tell anyone
    it's a bike. o If anyone asks, call it "exercise equipment." o If they find out it's a bike and
    demand a fee, call Amtrak Customer Care and complain. You'll get the standard $25 voucher.

    =v= Since doing the first three, I've never had to do the fourth. <_Jym_
     
  6. Xyz

    Xyz Guest

    This isn't about Amtrak but we have a train system up here in Canada called Via Rail. I still
    remember the good ol days when I would ride my bike down to the train station late at night and just
    check it in as baggage. They would put it on the last car while I rode in coach. This was so
    convenient. It made taking the train fun. They're comfortable as well. Big seats, not too busy and
    you can move about. I would take the train into a small town, get off and wait for morning light and
    ride into the next town to visit friends. Those early morning rides on the weekend were just
    heavenly, especially after a week of sitting down at a desk. Not many cars were on the road this
    early in the morning and there's also this nice long bike path running from Brockville into
    Gananocque (sp), Ontario. The story I hear is that some telephone company had laid down fibre-optic
    cabling and then paved it over and the bike path was the final result. This path is great as it
    isolated from the road and it ran along the Thousand Island Parkway. A nice view and no worry of any
    car coming along.

    Somewhere down the road (this was about 12+ years back) they started to ask for bikes to be boxed
    (pedals off). Then they started to cut back on bike service so that bikes would only be transported
    once a day. As a bicyclist I started to like the train less and less.

    On 27 Feb 2003 11:17:51 -0800, Jym Dyer <[email protected]> wrote:

    >> I've carried my Bike Friday on to the Coast Starlight as well as checking bikes in boxes as
    >> baggage. The latest rules make it unclear if the Friday in bag would still be OK.
    >
    >=v= This is an ongoing hassle. Some Amtrak station agents don't know the folding bike rules and
    >treat it as a non-folding bike, demanding fees and such. My strategy is basically this:
    >
    > o In a suitcase, check it; in a bag, carry it on (and put it in a safe place). o Don't tell
    > anyone it's a bike. o If anyone asks, call it "exercise equipment." o If they find out it's a
    > bike and demand a fee, call Amtrak Customer Care and complain. You'll get the standard $25
    > voucher.
    >
    >=v= Since doing the first three, I've never had to do the fourth. <_Jym_
     
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