Campaigns: NYS Misses the Train

Filed Under: Advocacy & Policy, Culture, Funding, Infrastructure, Multi-modal Travel, Roll-on Service, Tourism
Post By: justinsmith
Posted On: May 20, 2016


NYBC has been working to get bikes on Amtrak for decades. We would all LOVE to roll our bikes onto Amtrak and go to the many spectacular destinations throughout New York State, but, unfortunately, “walk-on” / “roll-on” service is going to be very limited here in New York. 

By “very limited”, we mean that it’s going to be almost non-existent. The Vermonter, which travels from D.C. to St. Albans, VT, stops at Penn Station in NYC. So, if you’re in NYC and want to travel through all of Vermont or down to D.C. you’re in luck. If you want to see the beauty of the Adirondacks, the Hudson Valley, the Finger Lakes, Niagara Falls, and Great Lakes in general – along with many other wonderful destinations – you’re going to struggle a lot more. Traveling the state by bike and train will remain a substantial pain. 

To start, without roll-on service (which is walking your bike onto the train and putting it into a bike rack), the station where you’re beginning your journey must have checked baggage service. In order to bring your bike with you, you must partially dismantle it and put it in a $15 cardboard box that is stowed. In order for you to take your bike off of the train, there must be checked baggage service at your stop (most stops don’t have checked baggage service). Talk about a hassle.

It’s not only a hassle, but it prevents many bicycle tourists from traveling to various small towns and cities across the state. So, in other words, these towns and cities are missing out on a bigger slice of the economic benefits that bicycle tourists bring.

Some good news is that Amtrak has a plan to introduce bicycle racks within all of its long distance trains (cue the confetti and noise makers)! These bike racks will enable “walk-on” or “roll-on” service as some refer to it. In other words, if you reserve a “walk-on” spot, you won’t need to worry about your where you start or end your trip having checked baggage service or not. Without “walk-on” / “roll-on” service, traveling with your bike becomes a lot more complex.

In terms of the Vermonter, the bad news is that it will only be able to accommodate “walk-on” / “roll-on” service for 2 to 4 bikes per train. This is because the Vermonter is not operated with a baggage car. Trains with baggage cars can have up to 8 bikes in each baggage car.

In terms of traveling by train and bike in New York State, the really unfortunate news is that most of the Amtrak routes in our state are funded by New York State, and the legislature recently decided to cut out the approximately $400,000 needed to outfit Amtrak trains for “walk-on” / “roll-on” service. So, there will be no spending what amounts to pennies on the dollar to equip trains for bicycle roll-on service, even as railroads in other parts of the U.S. and around the world have managed to do so for quite some time.

We’ll all keep staring awkwardly with our green eyes at the Missouri River Runner and Amtrak Cascades while here in the northeast, where railroad ridership is the highest and car ownership is the lowest, we’ll plunge our heads deeper into the sand… until next year…