So I asked Amtrak (again)…
Not to be a downer, but how many cyclists can Amtrak expect in a day? Enough to justify the capital expense?
I’d love local ROLO access, but don’t see it happening without a larger shift in transportation. When you can fly for the same cost or rent a car for a third of the cost, their isn’t much incentive for travelersoverview Amtrak.
(Considered Amtrak for an upcoming trip to Portland ME)
I don’t think it’s anywhere near a third of the cost. Coming back from CtC I rented a car (one way) for something like $125. The fare from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh is $55.
The train works really well for some kinds of trips. E.g., if they have RORO service to Cumberland you could take the train out and ride back, a very nice excursion.
Not that I think Amtrak makes sense economically outside of the NE corridor — that is well documented — but I think the RORO service would work well for a lot of cyclists.
They’re aware. The business case for the service has been made. Read back through this thread’s contents since Summer 2013, when this project came to life.
The problem is that Amtrak isn’t a monolithic monster, but rather an amalgam of train operators run at the state level, with enough of a sheen with a national imprint to appear to be a national monolithic monster. Michigan and California have trains, with Amtrak printed on the side, with long-running RORO service. But states do most of the funding, and with conservative teaparty types in power, getting them to free up the paltry amount of money to do what’s necessary — times N states with rail service — is damn difficult. PA would cut the Pittsburgh-Harrisburg train altogether for the cost of a few traffic lights ($7-10M). Pile on top of that the fitting the rolling stock for the service, all manner of different setups at various stations, trying to keep the dozen-or-so cars, so fitted, restricted to just this one named train and not have them get sidetracked to a storage yard or some other train. Lots and lots and lots of variables, all of which need to be nailed down and everyone instructed on proper handling. Soooo many things that could go wrong, and probably will.
In actuality, the cars will probably show up sometime in June. Nobody knows precisely when, but the last thing Amtrak wants is to advertise a date and then have piles of people test the limits of the service in its first week when things are likely to get messed up the most. Better to get all the rolling stock in place, make sure they can keep all the pieces in place, and the handful of people who have volunteered to try it out can do so.
Really it isn’t the money. The whole cost of these racks, for all the cars put together, is only a five-digit number, or nearly so (and is being privately funded, at that). But the cars themselves are brand-new, and getting a fleet of multi-million-dollar rolling stock ordered, delivered, and outfitted properly, is a gargantuan affair. Bolting a few dozen racks in place is just one piece of that puzzle.
Short version, pppllllleeeeeease be patient. I’ve been after them for six years, and I still won’t be able to bike to Altoona like I asked for in 2009. Maybe not in this decade. Maybe not ever, if PA yanks the funding for the Pennsylvanian, as they’ve repeatedly threatened. But Amtrak wants to make it happen.
Get the teapartyidiots out of D.C. and the state houses, and we might get this done, nationwide, a lot sooner. Keith Rothfus (PA-12) is certainly not on board.
I am really curious it having roll on service on the Capital Limited would make as much of a difference as I imagine it would. Sometimes we get so caught up in our with our own interests that we lose sight of reality.
I would imagine roll on would open the GAP/C&O to all sorts of riders that don’t have the time or feel up to the challenge of doing the entire GAP/C&O. But would it really have a big effect on ridership? I guess that won’t be answered until the bike racks are in place. OTOH, if it does have a large effect on ridership and the racks are first come first serve it would really suck to be standing at the station in Cumberland only to find the bike racks full.
They are expecting the GAP part of the Capitol Ltd to be busy. Each train will only be able to accommodate eight bikes (or is it 10, I’d have to go back and check the diagrams, but it isn’t much). Best to follow the instructions — yet to be published — and reserve your space as early as you can.
FWIW, the same train and cars continue to Chicago, so you can go west just as easily as east. In fact, it’s entirely possible that some of the racks going eastward will already be in use when the train arrives in Pittsburgh, so again, be sure to reserve space.
I believe there is also to be a fee involved. Details forthcoming, but I don’t want to blindside everyone. This isn’t a PAT bus.
FWIW, many other Amtrak routes (like the Cascades) do require a bike reservation. Come to think of it, the Cascades is a good model — you can use the bike racks even at stations that don’t have checked baggage service, like Olympia:
Most of the talk I have seen said you’d need a reservation for RORO.
Then again, most say EARLY 2015, not sure who’s book that JULY=Early in the year.
I’ll be on the capitol leaving midnight 13th/14th this month for a 5 hr ride to Toledo.
It sucks that I’ll need to dismantle and box my bike etc.
Similarly I’ll be on the train going to DC then to Fla on june 1.
Would sure be nice to have RORO to DC so I could do tourist for a few hrs over
my layover there, _THEN_ box the bike etc.
On that subject, locals are not sure I could add a boxed bike to a ‘checked through trip” mid point.
Planning a pitt to DC (and train ride back) in august. Any word if the roll on service is active now? Sure would be nice to not have to take the bikes apart….
I don’t think it’s there yet, but August seems safe. Rack deployment should start by the end of the month.
thanks stu! I hope you’re not just getting my hopes up only to be crushed into the ground as I’m taking my bike apart on the marble floors of the DC train station again….lol!
This project is an example of Hofstadter’s Law: “It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.”
* end of July: racks on trains
* end of August: most other things ready (software, training, site prep, website, media notification, etc.)
* sometime in September: probably will be publicly available RORO service
Info is from a recent conference call.
They’re making this harder than it has to be. I took Amtrak to Missouri and back with my bike in the spring, and the trains across MO have RORO. It’s the easiest thing in the world and they have no special equipment for it. One extra click adds a bike to your ticket when you buy online, and they never checked anyhow. You just carry your bike onto the train, lean it against the wall, and sit down. If you look at all awkward they’ll grab it from you and carry it back out onto the platform for you at your destination before you can blink. Walk down the platform, ride away. It takes them no more time to help unload a bike than to help an old person or someone with those huge suitcases. It’s really just a matter of finding a little space. And I had a heavy steel touring bike with camping stuff strapped to it – with a lighter bike it would be trivial.
This article says that roll on/roll off won’t happen in 2011. It won’t start until 2012!
Note that this thread started in 2010. My original request was in 2009. As to whether I will *ever* get to RORO a bike to and from Altoona, as I hoped for? I’m guessing 2019, and that’s really optimistic.
Things really are looking good for 2015 to D.C., though. Very likely September.
Looks like we will be boxing our bikes for our august ride…oh well…lol. Maybe next year! Thanks again for all the updates stu.
I have a friend who works for Amtrak (engineer) and a bunch of other railroaders who work for CSX — who all know each other. I hear the Roll On racks are going to be up this year, they keep saying that anyway. One of them lives in Harper’s Ferry and was trying to entice me to ride down his way with the news that it’s almost here LOL.
I’ll believe it the first time someone reports they actually had one on their train though.
Getting a damn box is agonizing at Union Station. I’ve done this so many times and it takes them about 1.5 – 2 hours to go grab a box and bring it to you each time — from the time you get to the baggage claim area to the time they stop standing around goofing off to grab the box for you.
While we wait for RORO service, we can see how it might work one day in this vision of the future:
Note CTC reference.
Where all the “trains were built for freight! Get on a bike trail!!” haters at??
The passenger train company says it has not set a date for making the racks available but will aim for this summer, said Craig Schultz, an Amtrak spokesman.
Read more: http://triblive.com/news/allegheny/8793538-74/amtrak-racks-passage#ixzz3h6PtU518
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Is JULY not “this summer” oh, I forgot, we apparently also have not reached
“Early 2015” yet… (same source I wonder?)
Ironically, the train in question is almost NEVER on time pgh to dc so to hope
to not slow it down is almost absurd.
I hate to add to the madness but I thought I would share what the women told me at the ticket counter yesterday as we were checking our bags and paying for our bike box in washington, DC.
Unprompted, she said “I can’t wait till January when we get the roll on cars”.
September. Early Sept for Capitol Ltd, maybe two weeks later for the Vermonter.
Amtrak’s maintenance people have been preparing rolling stock at about a car a week, and had 6 of 10 ready last week.
Stu, didn’t mean to put out any bad info. Just thought it note worthy since it came from an Amtrak employee.
Pardon the ignorance, but does the RORO service means I can travel by train from Pittsburgh to a station with no baggage service (say, Connellsville) and simply take my bike out at that station and be on my way?
I do like that you can make a reservation. That way you don’t have any surprises when it you show up for your train and the racks are full
That is the idea, yes. October 2013, that’s exactly what we did. I had the video rolling, and the link is back a couple pages in this thread. As I recall, the eight-minute vid shows the train coming to a stop in Connellsville, us walking down to get our bikes, getting them off the racks, exiting the train, another set of riders boarding, then the train taking off. It was stopped about four and a half minutes.
Update. Still no firm launch date for a public announcement, but if you’re planning a trip with a bike, mid-September is looking pretty good. Figure on having to make reservations to ensure there is rack space. Figure on paying $25 to ship the bike, in addition to your ticket.
A soft launch will go into effect sooner than that. If you are seriously interested in that, contact me.
That’s for the Capitol Limited. The other route getting RORO, the Vermonter, is not as quite as far along, and will lag the Capitol Limited by a couple of weeks. The delays are related to a maintenance backlog, not the bike project itself.
Six are signed up to make this morning’s test run. A couple of them are regulars on this board. Also one reporter. Hoping all goes well.
Some details on the availability of the service are mentioned in today’s PG. I’m pretty sure this is going to be available without qualification in just a couple of weeks.
We all owe a deep dept of gratitude to Stu and a cadre of others who have been working doggedly with Amtrak on this for years.
This is a true game changer in the life of the Great Allegheny Passage, and “wanna be” trail users.
Thanks, Stu! (and thanks, Amtrak!)
I must be off now….I have a ticket reservation system I need to explore!
I completely echo the kudos to Stu. I. Am grateful for his efforts.
Best part is now you can take a bike to points in between the stops that actually have checked baggage. Opens up so many more originating and departing stops for traveling with a bike.
Really a game changer since it’s hard to take bikes on most long distance travel options (aside from renting a car/van).
Yes. There’s the half-hour ride from Pittsburgh to Connellsville, leaving Pittsburgh putatively at 6:20 am. You could ride the train there, then ride back, a nice day’s excursion. Or ride the GAP to Cumberland and then take the train the rest of the way to DC, avoiding the C&O, or back to Pittsburgh. And you can now use Amtrak as a bail option on the GAP. It’s a little inconvenient, because of the once a day schedule, but a hell of a lot easier than trying to figure out how to get someone there with a car that can transport your bikes.
The cyclists who participated were asked for non-disclosure because it was an evaluation and not a final product. It’s a tremendous development.
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