Vermont's experiment with roll-on bicycle on Amtrak: Could it come to Missouri?

The New York Times covered the roll-out of bicycle roll-on access and installation of new bicycle racks on Amtrak's Vermonter route--a route similar in several ways to Missouri's River Runner Amtrak route:

Rolling your bicycle on Amtrak means no more packing, no more disassembly--just
Rolling your bicycle on Amtrak means no more packing, no more disassembly--just roll your bike right on the train and go. (Photo courtesy Matt O’Toole, Virginia Bicycle Federation)

Beginning May 1, [2016] Amtrak [began offering] carry-on bike service, allowing passengers to ride in designated cars outfitted with bike racks on its Vermonter line, which operates each day between Washington, D.C., and St. Albans, Vt., with stops in cities including Philadelphia, New York, Hartford, Conn., Springfield, Mass., and Essex Junction, Vt.

“We look forward to measuring the success of this service with an eye to expansion to additional routes across our national network,” Deborah Stone-Wulf, Amtrak’s vice president of sales and customer service said in a statement.

Cyclists who wish to use the service must arrive at their station a half-hour before boarding time. Train cars with bike service will have “bike-friendly” stickers on them, and there will be instructions in the rack area about how to load the bikes. The front wheel of each bike must be removed to fit it into the space, and extras, like panniers and saddle bags, must be removed as well before you add the bike to the rack. An Amtrak crew member will be on hand to help.

Expanding Vermont's experiment to Missouri--and nationwide?

Over the past couple of years, Amtrak has greatly expanded its roll-on bicycle service to routes across the country. 

MoBikeFed has been working with a nationwide group of advocates who would like to see roll-on bicycle service available on every Amtrak route nationwide. 

The Missouri River Runner, running two trains between St. Louis and Kansas City every day, has allowed roll-on bicycle service since the mid 1990s, when MoBikeFed leaders approached Missouri legislators about the possibility.  (Regional Amtrak service like the River Runner is funded by the state--meaning that state officials have some pull with Amtrak to determine details of implementation in the state.)

But--despite over two decades of successful roll-on bicycle service--the Missouri rail cars have never had the proper bicycle racks or facilities to safely stow the bicycles.

Champe Burnley, Chair of the Virginia Bicycle Coalition and Vermonter rail car
Champe Burnley, Chair of the Virginia Bicycle Coalition, poses with a rail car from the Vermonter line, showing how the retrofit bicycle racks in the Vermonter rail cars work

So the importance of the Vermont experiment is that the Vermonter has the exact same type of rail cars Amtrak uses on the Missouri River Runner.

If the experiment with retrofitting bicycle racks on the Vermonter was a success, it could pave the way for retrofitting hundreds more similar rail cars across the U.S. for roll-on bicycle use. 

Including the Missouri River Runner!

So stay tuned--because the roll-on bicycle experiment in Vermont was indeed a resounding success.  Other recent Amtrak experiments with roll-on bicycle access have been a success as well.

We understand that Amtrak sold no fewer than 55,000 bicycle tickets last year.  That's a lot.

Bicyclists love Amtrak and Amtrak love bicyclists.  So--let's take it to the next level!

Could we expand roll-on bicycle access to regional Amtrak routes beyond the Vermonter and the Missouri River Runner?

According to Amtrak officials we spoke with during a hands-on tour of roll-on bicycle equipment at Amtrak headquarters in Washington, DC, last year, the difficulty with installing the bicycle racks on the Missouri River Runner is that the route uses cars from a pool of several hundred that are used by dozens of regional Amtrak routes around the country.

So it doesn't make sense to retrofit just the Missouri rail cars with the bicycle racks.  Within just a few months those cars would all be cycled out for maintenance and then back in service--on some other regional route across the country.

The Vermonter was a bit of a special situation, where the line keeps its own cars and doesn't participate in the broader rail car pool, as most regional lines do.

So the Vermonter was an excellent trail--and the next logical step is not just to add roll-on bicycle capability on a few local routes, like the Missouri River Runner, but to make it extensively available across Amtrak's entire system. 

Roll-on bicycle access coming to the Southwest Chief--soon?

In related news--vastly increased and simplified roll-on bicycle access is coming to a number of Amtrak routes nationwide, including the Southwest Chief, which runs from Kansas City to Chicago.  The planned upgrade to the Southwest Chief's rail cars has been underway for the better part of a decade and it may be several years more before they cars are in service.  But our contacts at MoDOT assure us that the project is still moving forward and will feature greatly increased bicycle service compared with current rolling stock.


For now you can take your bicycle on the Southwest Chief, but you must box it and pack it as luggage.

Amtrak loves bicycles--and people who bicycle love Amtrak!
Amtrak loves bicycles--and people who bicycle love Amtrak!

More about bicycle access on Amtrak trains in Missouri and across the U.S., including which routes allow bicycle access and, here.

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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