I Took My Bike on Amtrak. Here’s What You Can Expect.

by | October 6, 2020 | News, Biking Outside The Region, The Circuit | 10 comments

I wanted to test out Amtrak newly expanded bikes on board program, so I decided to take the train to Exton.

Exton Station is the terminus of a new multiuse trail that connects directly to the Chester Valley Trail. This is a brand new feature for Amtrak (and SEPTA, which now allows bicycles on all trains!)

Here’s how it went:

First off, for local travel, Amtrak’s $20 bike fee blows a hole in your budget. That’s a discussion that we need to have with PENNDOT, since other states such as Vermont and North Carolina offer free or low cost bike access on state supported trains. Fortunately, I had a $20 Amtrak voucher that was going to expire if I didn’t use it. 

The easiest way to reserve your bike is via the Amtrak App or website. The site will offer available bike accommodations when you make your reservation. Amtrak only permits 2 bikes per train on Northeast Regional Trains, including the Keystone service to Harrisburg. 

I boarded at 30th Street Station and consulted with a conductor to find the location of the rack. It turned out that every car on the four-car train had bike space. Amtrak modified a luggage rack at the end of the car to create a convertible bike rack.

Pretty innovative given the limitations of the space available on the Amfleet rail cars, but the innovation also means that it’s not as simple as hanging up your bike and sitting down.

Bike in Philly

To open the bike rack you need to follow 6 steps. The most important step of this process is to remove the front wheel. Amtrak requires this so the handlebars don’t protrude into the aisle. Many front wheels without a quick release require a 15mm wrench for removal. 

After you flip up the luggage grates and drop the safety bars lay the front wheel on the ground and secure it with the velcro strap near the floor. Then hang your bike off the rear wheel.

Secure with the straps on the arm that swings out and lock the safety bars back in place. You’re done, finally. The process took me about 3 minutes, so remember to tend to your bike a few minutes before you’re ready to deboard.

I didn’t bother putting the wheel back on until I was off the train. I used a short bungee cord to tie the wheel to the frame to get off. For me that was a lesson learned. If I removed the front wheel before boarding and secured it to the bike frame with a velcro strap or bungee cord it would have saved me a lot of time and anxiety.


Bike in Philly
It was a long, drawn-out negotiation with Amtrak to come to this point. They found a way to make it work on their 1980’s era coach cars to bring your standard bicycle onto the extensive NE Regional Network.

Expect the next generation of Amtrak trains to be way more bike friendly. As has been the case for more than a decade, folding bikes are allowed onboard all trains in lieu of a piece of baggage, and don’t require a fee or reservation.

 For more details about bikes on board visit Amtrak’s bike info page.

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10 Comments
  1. Matt Ludwig

    Thanks for this John! Question: is the space reserved (since you booked it online), or could there possibly be someone’s luggage in the rack when you show up?

    Reply
    • John Boyle

      Yes luggage can be on there, but there are two stickers on the rack that state the space is reserved for bicycles. Look for the conductor if this happens.

      Reply
  2. Mark Hennessy

    Very informative thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  3. Steve Spindler

    Great article John. There is nothing better than sharing your own experience for something like taking a bike on Amtrak. The photos are very helpful.

    I’m not going to complain about the $20 charge because I’m just grateful to be able to bring a bike in the first place. For biking the Erie Canal in June, I looked at using Amtrak for doing a one way trip before deciding to do a round trip.

    We are taking our bikes on NJ Transit tomorrow on our way back from Penn Station in NY. NJ Transit has been welcoming cyclists too.

    Bikes on trains make so many more adventures possible within the region. It’s so awesome!

    Reply
  4. Claudia N Crane

    Thank you, John! You’ve always been the pioneer testing improved services, and bringing to light the real-world exigencies that need improvement! Paul and I almost got thrown off Amtrak with our folders last year by a rude conductor because the Redcap put our bikes in the wrong (disabled passenger) place. We’ve had good experiences with the same trip with the bikes every other year: from Philly to Boston, then roll onto ferry to Provincetown!

    Reply
  5. Liz Feinberg

    Very good to hear this. Thank you John.

    Reply
  6. Adam Mitry

    Do you know which Keystone trains offer this? Im doing a Century in Sept (on a Sat) ending in Lancaster. The website doesn’t have the train specs of whether they offer bike transport.

    Reply
  7. Joanna

    Interesting. We are planning a trip on the GAP trail and were hoping to use Amtrak to return from the end of the trail but we have 2.5-3 inch tires so I guess we’ll need to figure another way back.

    Reply
  8. Willson

    The one thing no one mentions when it comes to bikes… Amtrak charges you the bike fee for each train connection on the ticket. That $20 up the east coast easily becomes $40-60. Yet, same trip plug in bringing on a pet only a single $26 charge. When I called Amtrak about it, first came the long hold or have a return call. The agent then tried explaining this was required. Then was stumped when I mentioned you have to carry the bike on yourself, hang it, and remove it- again, by yourself.

    Reply
  9. Dan M

    Great article! Considering taking my bike on Amtrak to Raleigh NC from Lancaster PA was wondering how this works. Thank you.

    Reply

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