This is a shameless attempt to save the the most advanced civilization in
history from imminent self destruction by eliminating carbon emission,
dependence on foreign sources of fuel,obesity, hypertension and diabetes.
Cycling accomplishes all those things at once and helps us develop a better
understanding of ourselves, each other and our relationship to the cosmos.

Oh, horse puckey!
I like to ride bikes, have been doing it all my life.
The rest of that crap is just a fringe benefit,
and the blogosphere gives me a chance to share my interior
monologue with virtual rather than imaginary friends.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Bikes and Train Travel

Unlike a lot of people in this country, I travel by train several times a year.  I grew up around trains, my father worked for a railroad and I worked for one of the largest during the first 12 years of my professional career.  I learned early to appreciate the utility and comfort of train travel for medium distances and continue to use them on a regular basis.  My folder was bought specifically with that in mind.
I use it as many as 6 times a year and only on occasion do I have any questions or problems with it.
Now there is an organized effort from several bike groups to lobby Amtrak to allow "roll on" shipping of regular bicycles on all their trains.  They point to Illinois which for some reason has or had an agreement with Amtrak to allow this on trains operating in Illinois.
As much as I'd like to see this, I think the attempt to lobby the railroad is a waste of effort.
What most people don't understand is that there is precious little demand for rail service in this country.
Back in the sixties, just before I started working for Burlington Northern, the railroads in this country discontinued passenger service because it was not profitable and they could not compete with the new Interstate Highway system.
Amtrak was created as a result.   The professional corporations shed the dead weight of their passenger service, concentrated on freight and have become one of, if not the, healthiest part of the economy.
Why  do I bring all this up?
Amtrak is another attempt to provide service where no profitable demand exists.  Like other government agencies it lives in a perpetual state of bankruptcy sucking up tax revenues year after year.
They have cut services to the bone.  Very few trains have checked baggage of any kind.  Passengers are allowed 2 pieces of carry on luggage, bicycles are allowed if folded
or boxed and shipped as checked baggage on a train that offers that service.
As I said, very few trains  accommodate checked baggage of any kind.  In order to meet the request for roll-on transport of bikes, a baggage car would have to be added to each train, baggage facilities and personnel would have to be added to each station.  In other words, millions upon millions of dollars would have to expended to accommodate the few people who would use it.
If the service does exist in Illinois, I have never seen it used by any passengers in 40 years of riding trains there.  I imagine the baggage cars that are or were used there had tie downs to accommodate the agreement, but since most trains and stations have no baggage service I suspect the agreement exists on paper only.
It's a nice idea, but since there isn't enough business to keep Amtrak afloat on it's own, I don't see them adding any services or equipment.
I very selfishly appreciate the fact that a lot of money is being spent to increase the speed of rail travel in this country, but also believe it's another example of throwing artificial money after bad.
If you want to see improvement in the service, take the Interstates out of the federal budget, operate them as a tollway and stop subsidizing oil companies with tax breaks.   Then, when people  pay the real cost of car travel,  we might see some demand for rail service again.


  1. I agree that it might not be a big deal in some areas, but in others there is a big demand for both rail and bike space on it:

  2. Now commuter trains are a different issue. Amtrak only offers inter city and inter state service for seated passengers. Demand for roll on service on commuter lines varies in each metro area and is handled differently by different carriers. Some places encourage it, others disallow it entirely. but again it seems to depend upon the space available on the existing equipment

  3. Commuter trains are not entirely different. If you look at the Caltrain bike cars, they take all the seats out of one half the main level of a car, and put 40 bikes there. If they were running full (they aren't usually) that would be a mess of people displaced for 40 bikes.

  4. I think the difference is in the demand for service. Millions more people utilize trains for commuting everyday than than for inter city or inter state travel. Facilitating people with bikes for a 20-90 minute ride is a different proposition than securing a bike safely for 8-48 hours aboard a train. I have read some of the instructions for BART in particular and they encourage people to bring their bikes aboard, but expect the rider to bear full responsibility for holding it and keeping others secure from it while riding. There is just no way to do that on an inter city trip, they would have to be stored in a storage facility, and for security be checked specifically to the owner. It all requires additional equipment and personnel.