File this under “cautious optimism.”
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that Amtrak will be installing new baggage cars with what may allow roll-on service for unboxed bikes on all of its long haul routes “by the end of the year.”
The bike touring community has long been prodding America’s long distance train transportation provider to consider making such a service available, particularly at stations that serve active touring routes. Amtrak has had roll-on service available on a limited number of lines, but now it appears the country is figuratively opening up for multimodal bike touring adventures.
A few questions remain to be answered:
- Will this policy hit all at once, or will some routes get the service before others?
- Will this be true roll-on service or just boxless baggage service? Will it vary route to route?
- If this is roll-on service, will it only be available at “baggage stops” or will all stations allow passengers to arrive and depart with bikes?
- How much will the bike service cost a passenger? Will it differ based on distance traveled or be a flat fee?
- Will this policy impact the new folding bike rules?
- How will transfers work?
Amtrak has periodically announced big things for bikes on their trains, but this may be the first time it has announced a timeline with all routes getting a boxless option. From a bike touring perspective the notion that we can now roll up to the stations without having to disassemble and box our bikes is beyond welcome. I believe this will be a huge economic win for Amtrak and the towns with stations near bike touring routes.
Update – A careful read of the Amtrak blog post about its new baggage cars reveals something in what it doesn’t say.
Also, the new cars will be equipped with built-in luggage racks that will be able to secure unboxed bicycles (hooray!).
Hooray indeed! But, notice it doesn’t mention roll-on service? It’s possible this new baggage set-up will allow roll-on service (they are certainly testing it in some locations) but it’s also possible bikes will continue to be treated as checked baggage, without a boxing requirement. More to come!
(The post has been updated to reflect this important distinction.)