Amtrak train

Amtrak and touring bikes

Amtrak and touring bikes: this is a long story with a steadily happier ending. Once upon a time Amtrak only allowed touring bikes if they were packed in a box and checked with baggage at certain stops only. Since then roll aboard service has expanded on certain lines and we may (maybe… possibly… perhaps…) be seeing true roll-aboard service expanded to all lines. Read on…


In June 2014, Amtrak announced new baggage cars allowing checked unboxed bikes for all long distance routes “by the end of the year.” Well, it’s the end of the year… so are we a step closer to easier travel by train with our touring bikes?

Well, the silence from Amtrak doesn’t strike me as a good sign. When I got an update on Amtrak Express bike shipping service in St. Louis (thanks Kurt Werstein) it reminded me of the “end of the year” comment on bikes checked for passengers. Digging a bit today revealed little to suggest the rail transportation provider is likely to meet that goal. Although I haven’t had the opportunty to confirm this, a commenter on Amtrak’s original post announcing the new baggage cars noted we may be waiting a lot longer:

I just called Amtrak about this and was told the cars are still in production so won't be out for another 6-12 months. Very disappointing to find out they are still so far away from being in use.

If you’re a masochist and prefer additional demoralizing fodder, read some of the comments by the curiously-in-the-know AMTK207 (cough cough Amtrak employee?[footnote]rank speculative opinion[/footnote] cough cough). The optimism that Amtrak will implement better national bike checking policies (to at least approach its excellent bike service on the west coast) seems to be fading. I’ll keep an eye on this into 2015.

UPDATE: looks like the first baggage cars are indeed in use, if only as a test. That might mean we’re in decent shape for unboxed bikes in the new baggage cars by next summer? Hoping to hear more from Amtrak as we head into spring…

UPDATE UPDATE: The baggage cars began on the Capitol Limited between Chicago and DC in mid-September 2015 and roll-on service is in effect at every stop. Listen to my experience on The Pedalshift Project 035. The Amtrak press release gives some good info:

Good News for Capitol Limited Customers: Bike Service Begins Aboard Trains 29 and 30


Effective September 15, 2015 Amtrak is pleased to announce that starting September 15, passengers can bring bikes on the Capitol Limited for only $20. Before bringing your bike aboard, please note the following:

  • Arrive Early If you are checking a bike, get to the station at least 30 minutes prior to train departure to allow time to get your tickets and take your bike to the baggage car.
  • Bike Reservations Bicycle reservations are required. Reserve your bike on by selecting “add bike to trip” when booking your train travel. You can also call 1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245) or make reservations at any Amtrak ticket office. Bike reservations cannot be made through Amtrak’s mobile apps. Don’t forget to bring the ticket (travel document) for your bike to present to the conductor.
  • One bike is permitted per person, and only standard size bikes are allowed. If your bike has a large seat/saddle bags, you will need to remove it from the bike before loading it on the train. The seat can either be carried on the train or checked, where permitted.
    Loading and Storing Your Bike Once you arrive at the station, take your bike to the coach/baggage car where it will be stored during your trip. A crew member will open the baggage car door.
  • You must be able to lift your bike onto the train and stow it in the rack. You must also attach the stabilization bar with the strap provided to your bicycle frame. Amtrak employees are not responsible for storing or securing bicycles. Upon arriving at your destination, a crew member will guide you to the car to retrieve your bike once the train comes to a complete stop and it is safe to do so.

Enjoy your journey aboard the Capitol Limited, and thank you for choosing Amtrak.

The Capitol Limited pulling in at Harpers Ferry
The Capitol Limited pulling in at Harpers Ferry