Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’

Bikes on Amtrak: Progress?

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

What is the status of getting roll-on bicycle service for Michigan’s Amtrak trains?

MDOT told us we’d have it over a year ago. That didn’t happen.

A March article on MLive showed that Amtrak isn’t even close on this and that it’s become a bigger issue beyond Michigan.

“We’re committed — in new equipment purchases there will be space for bicycles,” [Amtrak Chairman Thomas] Carper said. “How we retrofit old equipment that’s going to be phased out over the next two, three, four, five years — some of the equipment is older than I am. So there’s a balance, a cost balance in there. How we retrofit, there’s some engineering things that need to be taken into consideration.”

He added that upgrading Michigan’s rail service for bicycles could likely come as part of an upgrade across the entire Midwest Amtrak fleet.

Last week MDOT released a press released on the U.S. DOT’s plans to buy 130 new rail cars, 25 of which would be used on Amtrak’s Michigan lines.

Rail car manufacturers across the country will have an opportunity to submit bids to produce the first American-made, standardized passenger rail cars, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced today.

The $551 million Request for Proposals (RFP) to manufacture approximately 130 new bi-level passenger rail cars in America comes from a groundbreaking multi-state effort to jointly purchase standardized rail equipment to be used on Amtrak’s intercity routes in California, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Missouri, and potentially Iowa.

These new railcars “will also offer greater bicycle storage.”

Bids are due in a little over a month and the new rail cars will be delivered starting in mid-2015.

What we don’t know is how many existing railcars will be retrofitted to provide roll-on service sooner.

Taking the Bike Train on VIA Rail

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

This article is being written and posted from the VIA Rail Train 70 which runs from Windsor to Toronto, Ontario every morning.

This passenger train is part of the Bike Train program and allows roll-on bicycles as checked baggage. No disassembly is required, but it does cost an additional $20 each way. Still that’s much less than the standard airlines fees.

According to the VIA Rail web site, cyclists should arrive an hour before departure. Train 70 departs Windsor at 5:30am, but there’s no need to show up before 5am when the station is scheduled to open.

One caution: Not all VIA Rails allow bikes. You need to make your reservations while referencing the Bike Train page. There also seemed to be limited trains returning to Windsor on the weekend.

Another advantage of this service? You can find free parking and ride to the station to avoid the $10 daily fee at the local parking lot. Depending on how long your trip is, that could cover your Bike Train fee.

Now if only Detroit cyclists could get to Windsor without requiring a motor vehicle…

Overall, this nearby system seems to be a good model for Amtrak in Michigan. MDOT told us over a year ago that Amtrak would have such service but that was very optimistic. This M-Live article seems to have the most recent news on this effort.

There is an on-line petition for roll-on bicycle service as well.

AMTRAK aiming for roll-on bicycle service by spring

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

Last August, MDOT solicited comments on the State Rail Plan.  We asked cyclists to comment in favor of AMTRAK allowing roll-on bicycle service for all of its trains in Michigan. Currently AMTRAK requires bicycles to be partially disassembled and boxed.

In the last legislative session, a rider was attached to the 2010 MDOT budget appropriation bill which said:

For rail passenger service supported in any part through capital or operating assistance from funds appropriated in this act, the department shall work with the rail carrier to identify ways in which reasonable transport of bicycles by passengers can be accommodated.

There are three AMTRAK lines in Michigan. Only two, the Pere Marquette (Grand Rapids to Chicago) and the Blue Water (Chicago-Lansing-Port Huron) are provided operating assistance from MDOT.

Our concern was the Wolverine line (Chicago, Ann Arbor, Detroit, and Pontiac) would not get roll-on bicycle service.

We spoke with an MDOT staff person yesterday. She said AMTRAK has told them all three lines will have roll-on bicycle service and they are aiming for spring.

We asked if the bicycles would be in a separate baggage car but apparently AMTRAK is removing some seats and installing bicycle racks. We don’t know how many bikes these train will accommodate. It varies among the current AMTRAK lines, with some allowing three bikes per passenger car.

Apparently one potential hold up is their reservation system needs to be updated.

There are more details on AMTRAK’s onboard bicycle rack accommodations on their web site, including:

You can reserve space for bicycles when you make a ticket reservation. We charge a fee (generally ranging from $5 to $10 depending on route and distance traveled) for reserving a space in the bike rack. If space is available, you will be issued a ticket for bike rack space. Be prepared to give this ticket to the conductor when boarding with your bicycle.

However, you will not be able to use the onboard racks if you have a “tandem, recumbent or other unusual bikes.”

Start planning your summer bicycle trip to Chicago now… Hopefully Amtrak will have the service up and running by then.

Windsor updates: Bikes, Trains, and Ferries

Sunday, April 10th, 2011

Bicycle Use Master Plan underfunded

The Windsor Star has a brief mention of the city of Windsor’s bicycling efforts, which according to some bicycling advocates is moving too slowly.

Members of the Windsor Bicycling Committee and the advocacy group Bike Friendly Windsor were at Wednesday’s capital budget meeting to implore council to devote more money to the Bicycle Use Master Plan (BUMP).

Drafted by the city in 2001, the 20-year plan was meant to show the city’s commitment to building an “easily accessible, safe and actively used” cycling network.

But Steve Konkle of Bike Friendly Windsor said BUMP has been the victim of “chronic underfunding.”

According to Konkle, Windsor has less than 25 miles of bike lanes.

Bike Train now daily

The Ontario Bike Train is now daily. The train makes it easy for cyclists to get between Windsor, London, Toronto, and other cities in Ontario. Bicycle racks are available for cyclists.

We spoke with Justin LaFontaine, Projects Director for Transportation Options and the founder of the Bike Train initiative. He said the big buzz among Toronto cyclists is riding in Detroit. And while they can take the bike train to Windsor, there is no option for them to get to Detroit.

They have had conversations with the Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority about ferry service across the Detroit River. The Port Authority is very interested in helping make that international connection for cyclists.

Until there is a convenient way for cyclists to cross the border, Detroit-area cyclists can drive to the Windsor train station. There’s also this interesting web site with the tag line, “Explore Ontario by bike. Stop at bicycle friendly places to eat, visit and sleep.”

What about AMTRAK?

One obvious question is what about bicycles on AMTRAK? The Pere Marquette and Blue Water lines should be getting roll-on bicycle service. However, we do not know about the Wolverine line, the line between Pontiac, Detroit, Ann Arbor, and Chicago. That line is not subsidized by MDOT and therefore is not required to have roll on service per an MDOT appropriations bill. We’re waiting to hear if AMTRAK will provide roll on service nonetheless.

Roll-on bicycle service for Michigan trains

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

MDOT is soliciting comments on the State Rail Plan.

Here’s a comment made by MTGA:

We would like to see roll-on bicycle service for all Michigan passenger rail lines. We need to make it much more convenient for rail passengers to bring their bicycles on the train without having to disassemble and box them. Roll-on service would complement the non-motorized transportation efforts underway in the city of Detroit. It would also complement Detroit’s light rail plans, as those trains are expected to have roll-on bicycle service from the start.

Currently, in order to bring your bike on a Michigan AMTRAK train, you must disassemble it and put it in a box. This is obviously not convenient.

Imagine catching a train in the New Center Area and heading to cycling cities like Chicago!

We’ve been told the reason the Michigan trains don’t have roll-on service is because the trains don’t have baggage cars. Apparently there are some baggage cars available but they would require some refurbishment before they could be used.

That said, it seems that other rail lines have installed bike racks in their coaches. That may require removing some seating, which certainly would generate some push back.

Either way, we encourage all cyclists to submit comments to MDOT about making our state train service more bike friendly.