Bicycling coalition pushes for bikes on Amtrak trains

The New York Bicycling Coalition is working with Amtrak to make the company’s trains more friendly for cyclists.

In July, the two groups organized three demonstration rides on Amtrak’s Empire Service, including the Adirondack train that runs from Montreal to New York City. The train stops in Westport.

For the rides, Amtrak retrofitted a cafe car with four bicycle racks. The racks were for the bikes themselves and not for ones in boxes.

The test runs took place on July 23, 24 and 31. During those dates, the bicycling coalition organized volunteer bicyclists to participate in demonstration rides.

The bicyclists were then asked to provide feedback to Amtrak officials and complete a written survey. Non-bicycling passengers were also asked to complete a survey about the service.

State Sen. Betty Little, R-Queenbury, participated in the demonstration ride on July 24, along with local elected officials and representatives from area chambers of commerce and tourism agencies.

“Getting unboxed bicycle carriage facilities onto trains in New York has been a long-time advocacy goal of New York Bicycling Coalition and many of our partners in the bicycling community,” said NYBC Executive Director Josh Wilson, who lives in Saranac Lake. “We are thrilled that Amtrak has provided this special and historic opportunity for bicyclists to participate in these test runs and to demonstrate the strong demand for providing this service on New York’s Amtrak train routes.”

Currently only the Lake Shore Limited train between New York City and Chicago can carry bicycles, which it does in a baggage car. However, bicycles must be boxed for carriage on this train.

According to the bicycling coalition, roll-on bicycle carriage would serve millions of people in cities such as New York, Montreal and Boston. It would also encourage bicycle tourism.

Amtrak already operates this service in a handful of western states, including the Surfliner Train in California, and the Amtrak Cascades Train between Oregon and British Columbia, according to the coalition.

The future of roll-on bicycle service in New York will be determined by the state Department of Transportation, which will soon take on the responsibility of paying for a greater portion of in-state train service in accordance with a 2008 federal law that goes into effect in October and Amtrak, who must design and approve a bicycle rack system that will work on the train cars used in New York, according to a press release from the coalition.

“New York Bicycling Coalition will continue working with Amtrak, the Department of Transportation, Empire State Passengers Association, elected officials, chambers of commerce and other stakeholders toward a reasonable, cost-effective design for accommodating unboxed bicycles on New York’s passenger train lines,” Wilson said.