League of Michigan Bicyclists

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Bikes on Trains - Just Around the Track

Bikes-on-trainsSince the release of the Michigan State Rail plan last September, LMB has actively lobbied Amtrak to allow bicycles onboard Michigan passenger trains. We are excited to announce that our efforts are paying off and that Amtrak is currently taking steps to accommodate bicyclists on Michigan passenger trains.

In March, LMB delivered our bikes on trains petition to Thomas C. Carper, Chairman of the Board for Amtrak. The petition, which has grown to 3100+ names, urges the railroad to provide onboard accommodations for bicyclists and bike parking at all stations.

In response to the petition, Mr. Carper sent LMB a letter on June 25th outlining the current status of bicycle accommodations for both existing railroad cars needing retrofits, as well as their recent order of new rolling stock (emphasis added):

The extent of roll-on bicycle service is not as wide as we or the cycling community would prefer. However, we are excited about developments in the area of passenger car design and procurement that we hope will allow expanded access of this popular service.

Amtrak has placed an order for 130 new, single-level cars to supplement the existing fleet and allow retirement of some cars beyond their serviceable life, mostly on long-distance routes operating east of Chicago. This order is being constructed by CAF USA of Elmira, New York, and includes 55 new baggage cars and 25 new baggage-dorm cars. These two types of cars will be equipped with bicycle racks. It has not yet been determined how bicycles will be accepted and stored. We will look to the cycling community to help us craft a service that meets the needs of travelers within the operational constraints of the railroad environment.

Amtrak, the Federal Railroad Administration and several states, including Michigan, developed equipment specifications for a new generation of short-to-medium distance corridor coaches, food service, and baggage cars. The specifications require bicycle racks in each coach and baggage car. A request for proposals was issued last month. We expect that an order for 130 cars will be awarded to a manufacturer by the end of the year, with the first cars rolling off the assembly line and into service on Michigan, Illinois, Missouri, and California routes by 2015.

I understand that you have been working with Derrick James in our Government Affairs Department and Harris Cohen in Product Development to expand the type of roll-on service that is available on Illinois routes to our Michigan services. To this end, Amtrak Mechanical has been working on designs to retrofit food service cars used on some Michigan services to accommodate bicycle racks. One design has been tested and proved unsatisfactory, but our design team has developed an alternate solution based on what was learned from the initial design.

When a prototype of the new designed has been constructed, it will be placed into service on Illinois routes this summer to ensure that it meets customer satisfaction and allows for the safe loading and secured transport of bicycles. Once any needed modifications are made to the cars or procedures, and available funding is identified, we can retrofit a suitable number of food service cars to allow one on every corridor train operating on most routes through Michigan. We hope that this will work in a satisfactory manner, until the new cars are delivered and deployed.

Modeled after California cars, the new coaches will provide 12 spaces for bikes and potentially space for up to 16 additional bikes within the new baggage cars, according to Derrick James of the Government Affairs Department.

bikes-on-trains pilotbikes-on-trains-CaliforniaIn total, approximately 20 existing cars will be retrofitted to accommodate bicycles. LMB is pleased that Amtrak did not go with their original retrofit design. We expressed concerns regarding the tight spacing between the racks and the difficulty one would have in getting an inside bike out if multiple people parked their bikes (see top  photo).

After recently piloting this test rack in Chicago, Amtrak decided to go with an ‘angled-parking’ concept already in use in California bi-levels as shown in the bottom photo. This will require the removal of more booth seating but will be easier for the cyclist and safer for all since no lifting of bikes within the body of the train will be required.

While we are not officially popping the champagne yet to celebrate this victory since you still can't actually take your bike on Michigan lines yet, we are extremely excited that bicyclists will soon have that option.

We thank Amtrak for working with us to fix this deficiency, as well as all the advocates who have helped move this issue forward over the past year. Mr. Carper summed it up best in the concluding remarks to his letter, “Advocacy on behalf of worthy causes has formed the foundation for progress in our nation. Our mutual goal of improving the green transportation alternatives of a mobile public will continue to bear fruit as we continue improvements in the nation's ground transportation network."


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