Amtrak Century in CA attracts 1200 riders - How about large group bicycle touring on Amtrak in MO?

In 1997, MoBikeFed worked with leaders in the Missouri General Assembly and Amtrak to allow roll-on bicycle access to Amtrak's Missouri River Runner route--which intersects with the Katy Trail at several stations. This service is used by hundreds of cyclists each year, many of whom combine Amtrak with a cycling trip on the Katy Trail.  Traveling with a bicycle on Amtrak is a convenient way to travel on most Amtrak routes through Missouri--read all the details here.

Amtrak station at Hermann (Photo courtesy Randy Niere)
Amtrak station at Hermann (Photo courtesy Randy Niere)

Now we're leveraging that experience to work with groups across the nation that are working to create policies improve bicycle roll-on access to Amtrak nationwide--like the groups working for bicycle roll-on access to Amtrak's Capitol Limited, which connects Chicago and Washington, DC.

With construction on parts of Missouri's new cross-state Rock Island Trail underway now, even more bicycle tours that combine rails and trails will be possible, given the size of that system--over 450 miles of trails--and several good Amtrak connections, including St. Louis, St. Charles, Washington, Hermann, Jefferson City, Sedalia, Pleasant Hill, Lee's Summit, Independence, and Kansas City.

MoDOT & Amtrak working to greatly increase bicycle roll-on capacity on the Missouri River Runner route

MoDOT is working now to purchase upgraded modern rail cars for the Missouri River Runner route that reaches all of those locations--and MoDOT promises that those new rail cars will include greatly expanded capacity for roll-on bicycles, as well as far greater ease of access for passengers with bicycles. 

The new cars will carry at least 12 bicycles per train, and perhaps more (details are still being worked out)--a huge increase over the current capacity of four bicycles per train. The bikes will be stored in safe, specially design racks--and big improvement over Amtrak's current rail cars on the route, which just weren't designed to handle bicycles.  Kudos to Amtrak staff for working around this and making bicycle roll-on work on this route for the past 17 years.

Rolling a bicycle on an Amtrak train. Rolling on the new Missouri rail cars will be similar to this--vs the current requirement to carry your bicycle up several narrow, steep steps. (Photo courtesy Matt O’Toole, Virginia Bicycle Federation)
Rolling a bicycle on an Amtrak train. Rolling on the new Missouri rail cars will be similar to this--vs the current requirement to carry your bicycle up several narrow, steep steps. (Photo courtesy Matt O’Toole, Virginia Bicycle Federation)

In addition, and perhaps more important, the new cars will allow bicycles to roll on easily, without requiring bicycle-toting passengers to negotiate steps. The current configuration which requires carrying the bicycle up several steep, narrow steps, then turning a difficult narrow corner.  The new configuration will be complete level or may require one relatively small step up, depending on station configuration.

So that's the good news--the VERY good news--and we much appreciate the work of MoDOT and Amtrak to make those upgrades possible.

Bicycle Group Rides on Amtrak in Missouri?

But what about taking it to the next level: What about allowing bicycle excursion groups of 50 to 100 or even several hundred to take Amtrak on a leg of a bicycle tour?

That's what they have done in California--and an amazingly popular Amtrak Century tour attracts about 1200 riders annually.  The Orange County Register reports:

Most 100-mile century rides are pretty much the same. You get up at the crack of dawn – or before – and ride through scenic roads for six or seven hours. Then, at the end, you jump in your car and head home.

The Amtrak Century, now in its 36th year, includes a train ride back that makes it unique. I rode my first Amtrak Century on Sept. 11, leaving the Irvine Train Station at 6:30 a.m. as the sun began to rise. After four rest stops along the way for food and drinks, I arrived in San Diego, two blocks from the downtown Sante Fe Train Station, at 1:30 p.m.

Of the 1,200 participants in the Amtrak, 900 took the train home. Most took the opportunity to rest their legs, relax with a book or take a nap.

On some train cars, however, the action was a little livelier. It even became a moving party, complete with music and margaritas.

The upper-level celebration on my train car featured folks from all walks of life – doctors, city attorneys, heads of hospitals – all coming together for one common reason – to celebrate cycling.

"It was the best train ride ever," said Cheryl Sannebeck of Irvine. "We have a million dollar ocean view next to us, and no one is looking out of the train."

And for good reason. People body-surfed, sang songs and danced down the aisle. It was hard to believe, but just hours earlier we were suffering up the elevation grade at Torrey Pines some 80 miles into the ride.

"The train ride was definitely worth the wait," said Chuck Wentworth, 41, of Huntington Beach.

So what to you think?  Group bicycle touring by Amtrak in Missouri--should it be a possibility? Would you consider taking a bicycle trip that includes a leg or two on Amtrak as an individual, in a small group, or as a large group?


Improving bicycle access on public transit and Amtrak--by creating better bicycle and pedestrian access to stations and by allowing easy bicycle use of rail and transit facilities--is one of the objectives in MoBikeFed's Vision for Bicycling and Walking in Missouri.  Your membership and generous financial support helps turn our Vision into reality!

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