November 8, 2018
Curious about taking your bike on the Amtrak? A recent GObike supporter boarded an Amtrak train from the Buffalo-Depew station, The Lakeshore Limited, and rode it into the heart of New York City, Penn Station. Here's her story.
Guest submission from Melany Arrison
A person decides to travel using an Amtrak train for the several advantages it offers. The reasonable cost, convenience of not having to drive and ability to roll up your bike and have staff rack it in the baggage car is appealing. Tickets are reasonably priced—it costs only $66 each way to book a rather spacious and reclining coach seat. I found I could spread out and use an entire row as it was not a full car, the configuration consists of two comfortable seats on either side of the aisle. Each row in coach had a double electrical outlet and Amtrak provides a strong wi-fi signal which allows you to watch a lot of video etc. without barely any interruption or draining power off your battery.
The bike reservation is separate from your seat, but with a low cost of $20 each way, it is a good deal. This train allows ten bike reservations for the baggage car so book early if you can! You can book up to one year prior to travel with Amtrak.
Here’s the lowdown on the bike friendly service. Unfortunately, some of the staff was not well-versed in bicycle policy for this train. They did not give me the correct information. Had I not reviewed it thoroughly beforehand, I might honestly be writing a completely different version of this story.
At the Depew station, the staff was knowledgeable, professional and courteous. They told me exactly what to do and informed us repeatedly as the train was not running on time. I did as I was told and walked my bike up to the baggage car when prompted and handed it up to a very friendly conscientious worker who secured it in a universal rack with tie downs that will keep a bike snug for the trip.
Many hours later, in the cold damp darkness of night at Penn Station, there was a hiccup. I had asked the train attendant twice, “Where is the baggage car, I have to get my bike?” At Depew station, the baggage worker stressed it was my responsibility to go retrieve my bike immediately once I got off. You must roll it off, the baggage handlers would hand it to only me at the baggage car once I display my claim ticket. They reconfigure the train in Albany and baggage can be moved around. They do not take bicycles up to baggage claim in the station. You must walk to the baggage car and take possession of your bicycle. The baggage car moved from front to back of the train for us in Albany. My bike was tagged properly and moved with the rest of the bags bound for NYP. This is crucial to understand. The Amtrak Service Attendant told me to go up to track five and wait for my bike and my backpack. I said “But that’s not what I was told to do.” He repeated sternly “Track five is up the stairs, and pointed me away.” I took a breath and did as I was told.
Upstairs, everyone was moving swiftly through Penn station and you can tell immediately you’re now in a big city. I waited but not too long, I found the customer service, and felt faint as the guy said “ Uh, no, no, no, you have to get your bike yourself." I exclaimed in disbelief, “ I KNOW! So now what?" I was starting to feel my blood pressure skyrocket when I heard a familiar sound about 30 feet away, the DT swiss hubs of my bike make a very monotonous clicking sound. My sweet bicycle, my extension of self, was brought up by an employee who chastised me for not retrieving it from baggage. I swallowed hard and just gave my claim ticket over, blessed him and took possession of my precious bicycle.
If you ride Amtrak know this, you must roll up/roll off your own bike at the baggage car. You must insist when you disembark that you need directions forward or back to the baggage car. If your bike is damaged you must have pictures of the before, document everything by taking pictures and video of your trip. My bike was fine, not a scratch on her, but if the staff was in a hurry my bike would’ve been taken to the lost and found area of the station and held only 24 hours before possibly never surfacing again. My bike is special to me and the model is rare.
Next time I use Amtrak I think I will take a bike I care less about, one that holds less value. The best advice is given when you call 1-800-USA-RAIL and discuss your particular bike needs with the staff. Better yet call over to the Depew station where the staff was informed professionals. I am a Bicycle Advocate. I believe bicycling makes the world a better place. I had a blast in NYC and many wonderful interactions while I walked my bike around the station and rode around New York City. Ride bikes, be healthy and talk to those around you. I have so many fond memories and forged friendships because of my life behind the bars!