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