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Amtrak Agrees to Better Bicycle Access

We recently asked you to sign our petition to Amtrak asking to make traveling by bike easier for more people. This petition echoed a letter we sent earlier this year in our role as coordinating body of the Amtrak Bike Task Force. 

Together, we asked for the following changes: 

  • Maintain and increase bicycle storage on each new Airo train car (the current Amfleet cars are limited to one bike per train car) and make it easier to store your bikes:
    • Specifically, we asked for bicyclists to NOT have to take off the front wheel in order to store their bike on the train.
    • Use hooks that can hold standard mountain bike tires. 
  • To make it possible to take your bike on a multi-train trip and only have to pay once for your bike. 

We’re happy to report that Amtrak has responded and we thank Amtrak for ensuring that the new train cars being ordered and built now will include increased bike storage for Amtrak routes!

Amtrak’s willingness to work with the bicycling community to safeguard and improve bike access on their new trains is an important step forward. We know that a robust passenger rail service, along with active transportation infrastructure, is critical to building a multi-modal transportation system that is safe and accessible to everyone.

Starting in 2023, the League took over coordination of the Amtrak Bike Task Force. In that role, we convene regular meetings with national, state and local bicycle advocates, Amtrak staff, and other stakeholders to promote better bicycle access on trains. Since then we have heard from bicyclists around the country about how you would like to use Amtrak to travel with their bikes, and how existing service can be improved. 

Given the increased investment in Amtrak in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to fund replacement train cars, the Task Force has been focused on increasing bike access on those new Airo train cars. 

The good news:

  • The new Airo cars will have the capacity to hold two bikes— and some will include a baggage compartment to potentially store even more bikes. These new cars will largely be on routes, such as the Northeast Regional, currently served by Amfleet train cars which only have storage for one bike per car.
    • Routes with Venture train cars (these are often state-operated routes) that have storage for up to three bikes should continue to have storage for three bikes. This will allow bicyclists to sit with a fellow traveler and have both their bikes in the same car. 
  • Bicycle riders will NOT have to take off the front wheel on Airo cars, making it easier to load and unload your bike at each stop. 
  • The new bike racks will have hooks that will hold standard mountain bike tires (current Amfleet bike racks do not accommodate mountain bikes). 

The bad news:

Another problem we had hoped to address was the cost of bringing your bike on the train.  Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor and long-distance trains, there is a charge of $20 per bike per leg of a train trip. If you have to change trains, you have to reserve a new spot for your bike and pay an additional $20. One thing the Task Force had asked for was to have a “pay once” policy for multi-train trips.  

Unfortunately, Amtrak was not able to address this issue this time. Bike charges will remain the same as seat costs. (If you change trains yourself, you have to buy a second train ticket for yourself.) This is because of their reservation system. In his response letter CEO Gardner also remarked that bike fees on trains are competitive with airlines and buslines.

Not every Amtrak route charges $20 for a bike fee. If you can bring your bike on a local Amtrak line for $5, $10 or $0, you have your state Department of Transportation to thank! National Amtrak funds and runs long-distance trains and the Northeast Corridor, but several regional lines are paid for by the State Departments of Transportation. These trains are still Amtrak trains, but the state runs them, and the states have the option to subsidize the bike ticket. So if you live in North Carolina, Wisconsin or California, your state is subsidizing the cost of your bike ticket!

Amtrak routes and ownership. The routes in green are paid for by the State DOT.

But more good news!

In addition to answering our questions, Amtrak CEO Gardner also pointed out some good news for Amtrak routes that have bike storage in the baggage cars: 

  • This year, Amtrak is restoring 55 cars to our active equipment fleet that have been out of service for repairs. As these baggage cars come online, there should be more space for bikes on several lines including the Chicago-to-Los Angeles Southwest Chief, two Superliner Coach-Baggage cars, and 18 Horizon Coaches that will have spaces for bikes. 
  • As part of those repairs, the cars will be refurbished to have standalone bike racks and combination bike-luggage racks.

So what’s next for the Amtrak Task Force?

Now that we have Amtrak’s commitment to the new train cars having better bike access, we have a couple of ideas of where to go next from clear instructions on how to take your bike on the train, to working with other state DOTs to subsidize bike costs, to making Amtrak stations more bicycle friendly.  

Interested in helping out? Consider joining the Amtrak Bike Task Force by contacting Caron Whitaker at [email protected]

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