Bike Program to Begin on Capitol Limited

Amtrak plans to begin allowing passengers to take bicycles aboard the Chicago-Washington, D.C., Capitol Limited.

Although no date has been set, an Amtrak spokesperson said it could be as early as next week. Passengers with bikes must have a reservation and pay a $25 fee for the service.

For some, that might exceed the price of the ticket.

Amtrak’s website shows that roll-on service is available on nine of its routes. Of those, four offer the service for free, two have a $5 fee and three have a $10 fee.

Bicyclists will also be responsible for taking their bikes aboard the train, securing them and removing them once they’ve reached their destination.

The service will be available at all stations served by Nos. 29 and 30 with only standard-sized bikes permitted on board.

The service has been particularly anticipated in Pittsburgh, which is the western terminus of a trail that extends to Washington.

Two major bicycle trails – the Great Allegheny Passage and the C&O Towpath – run parallel to the route of the Capitol Limited east of Pittsburgh.

Amtrak expressed interest in providing the service five years ago and ran a one-day test with 20 bicyclists in October 2013

At present, Amtrak policies require that bicycles be dismantled and packed in boxes that can only be loaded or unloaded at staffed stations.

There are no staffed stations between Pittsburgh and Washington. Other staffed stations on the route include Cleveland, Toledo and South Bend, Indiana.

In the past, Amtrak has cited a litany of reasons why it has not implemented a bike aboard program on the Capitol Limited until now.

Deborah Stone-Wulf, Amtrak’s chief of sales distribution and customer service, addressed those in a guest blog post for the Adventure Cycling Association’s website (adventurecycling.org) last year.

“We understand and appreciate the synergies between rail and bike travel, and continue to work hard to better serve the bicycling community,” she wrote. “We, however, have many challenges, primarily with our core infrastructure. Among the key issues are finding space for bicycles on our trains and developing the ability to safely and efficiently load and unload bicycles.

“Much of Amtrak’s fleet is quite old with many cars more than 40 years old and bikes were not a consideration during the original design. The good news here is new equipment for long distance trains is on the way, featuring design elements that will help on this front. That still won’t help with our station platforms, however, which are of varying heights and present an obstacle for loading and unloading bicycles.”

Sara Snow, travel initiatives coordinator for the Adventure Cycling Association, based in Missoula, Montana, said her organization worked with Amtrak in identifying the Capitol Limited as one of two eastern routes that would test roll-on service. The other is the Vermonter.

Snow said that many of the organization’s 48,000 members use Amtrak to travel to or from biking excursions.

“We identified [roll-on service] as a huge need for making bicycle traveling easier. People have been advocating for this for a long time,” she said.

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