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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Testing Amtrak's roll-on bike service | anything but the car @bus15237

On Tuesday, I participated in an historic opportunity, to be part of a pilot project to test roll-on/roll-off bicycle transport service via Amtrak. It is not generally available to the public yet, but Amtrak wanted to see how well their idea would work in a real time situation. Some 20 cyclists were recruited to ride segments of the Capitol Limited between here and Washington DC to try it out.

As background, I have been asking Amtrak for years for just such service. For our silver wedding anniversary a couple of years ago, I had hoped to be able to have my bride and I do a day trip from Pittsburgh to Altoona. The plan was to bus our bikes into the city, hop on a train, exit in Altoona, two hours to the east, grab our bikes and ride three miles across Altoona to Lakemont Park to ride the wooden rollercoaster and other rides for a few hours, followed by a short bike ride back to the train station, picking up an ice cream sundae along the way somewhere, hop aboard a train, ride Amtrak two hours back to Pittsburgh,  and finally a bus ride home. It would have been a wonderful plan, if it were only possible. But having to disassemble a bike and put it in a box, and ship it, and reassemble at destination, times two bikes, times two trips, made it a non-starter. Ever since, I've tracked the progress of the request on the Bike-Pgh message board (http://bikepgh.org/mb/topic/so-i-asked-amtrak-again). I can't count how many times I would have ridden Amtrak if such a trip were possible. Instead I've ridden zero.

I boarded Amtrak #30 in Pittsburgh, bound for Connellsville, 60 miles down the line. This was arranged by personal invitation over two weeks ago, for which I was emailed instructions and a ticket. I arrived at the Amtrak station at the appointed time, where I met up with the other five cyclists invited. Two I knew well, the other three I had not met. I knew a couple of others who would be getting on in Connellsville when we were exiting.


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