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Old 06-22-12, 06:41 PM   #1
rhm
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has anyone had a good Amtrak experience? Please share!

Hey guys,

I haven't had a chance to tour, even a little bit, for a couple years now; so I've been avoiding this forum since the incessant dreaming makes me unhappy!

But I've been wanting to get away for a week or so maybe later this summer.

I can ride right from home... which will get me into unfamiliar territory in a couple days, which I guess would be okay. But then I thought, it would be sooooo easy to take an Amtrak from NYC, put the bike in the box they sell me, and ride from... well, where?

So I called up Amtrak today and asked something like this:
I: where I can get to from NYC, with my bicycle as checked baggage?
Amtrak: Where do you want to go?
I: Anywhere I can go with a bike as checked baggage.
Amtrak: You have to tell me your desired destination.
I: Okay, how about Montreal?
Amtrak: No, you can't go to Montreal. That train doesn't have a baggage car.
I: Okay how about Boston?
Amtrak: No, you can't go to Boston. That train doesn't have a baggage car.
I: Montpelier?
Amtrak: No, that station does not have baggage facilities.
I: Burlington?
Amtrak: No, that station does not have baggage facilities.
I: Plattsburgh?
Amtrak: No. That train doesn't have a baggage car.
I: Montpelier?
Amtrak: No, that station does not have baggage facilities.
I: Okay, well, where can I go?
Amtrak: Where do you want to go?
I: Anywhere where I can go with a bicycle.
Amtrak: Amtrak has hundreds of destinations. I can't list them all for you.
I: I don't want you to list them all. I want you to suggest one where I can get off the train with a bicycle.
Amtrak: I can't help you with that.

In the end the agent and I agreed it would be best if I pick up the national schedule from the Amtrak information office at Penn Station on my way home. But by then (3:50 PM) the office was closed.

Anyway, I am frustrated. Advice?

Or, at least, a feel-good story that will reassure me that Amtrak and bicycle touring are not incompatible?

Last edited by rhm; 06-22-12 at 07:19 PM.
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Old 06-22-12, 07:09 PM   #2
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Wow, I was hoping for something better. Next year, I was thinking it would be fun to simply ride from home as far as I can get in 2 weeks and take bus, train, or plane home.
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Old 06-22-12, 07:16 PM   #3
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I know, right?

It left me thinking I didn't know the secret handshake or something.

Rereading I see I left out one important detail. You can get to Buffalo with Amtrak. The Lake Shore Limited. Buffalo, yippee! Pardon me, my family is from Buffalo. I have seen the landscape between here and there enough times that it is not high on my list of places to go. I was hoping for somewhere a bit more exotic.
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Old 06-22-12, 07:32 PM   #4
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OK, here's what you do ...

There's this new fangled thing called "the internet". You can look up the Amtrak site on "the internet" and find out where you can go for yourself.

http://www.amtrak.com/servlet/Conten...=1237608346789

The person you talked to is right. There are hundreds of destinations and he/she can't check them all for you ... but you can check them. At a quick glance New Haven, CT might work for you.
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Old 06-22-12, 07:37 PM   #5
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I had a stellar experience with Amtrak across the board. If you go on their website, you can see which stations have what.
I found everything myself, but the agent was extremely helpful also.
I can't see myself getting back on a plane, ever.
Mark
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Old 06-22-12, 07:57 PM   #6
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OK, here's what you do ...

There's this new fangled thing called "the internet". You can look up the Amtrak site on "the internet" and find out where you can go for yourself.
Fascinating! I'm going to google that term right now, see what I find!

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The person you talked to is right. There are hundreds of destinations and he/she can't check them all for you ... but you can check them. At a quick glance New Haven, CT might work for you.
Alternately, let's try to be serious. Go to the Amtrak website, and they tell you for more information to call them. I called them. I waited on hold for a long time. My question, I think, is a reasonable one. Very few of their stations have baggage facilities. The agent does not need to name them all. To make me happy, the agent needed to engage her brain and name one. This was asking too much.

As for New Haven, I can get to New Haven by Metro North, don't even need to box the bike. Aside from that, New Haven is so close to home, I might as well ride there.


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I had a stellar experience with Amtrak across the board. If you go on their website, you can see which stations have what.
I found everything myself, but the agent was extremely helpful also.
I can't see myself getting back on a plane, ever.
Mark
Where did you get on the train, and where did you get off?
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Old 06-22-12, 08:07 PM   #7
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Just look up each one, click on the Baggage tab and see what baggage facilities are available.
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Old 06-22-12, 08:16 PM   #8
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Just look up each one, click on the Baggage tab and see what baggage facilities are available.
Obviously I can do that. The information gained is not useful, though. The website indicates that St Lambert, Quebec, for example, has baggage facilities and sells bike boxes. But the agent I spoke to told me specifically the train going there from NYC does not allow boxed bikes. The same goes for Boston.

I just spoke to this agent this afternoon, but I'm already doubting what she said. I'm going to try again. In the mean time, I would still like to hear accounts of people using Amtrak as part of a successful touring experience.
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Old 06-22-12, 08:18 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rhm View Post
Hey guys,

I haven't had a chance to tour, even a little bit, for a couple years now; so I've been avoiding this forum since the incessant dreaming makes me unhappy!

But I've been wanting to get away for a week or so maybe later this summer.

I can ride right from home... which will get me into unfamiliar territory in a couple days, which I guess would be okay. But then I thought, it would be sooooo easy to take an Amtrak from NYC, put the bike in the box they sell me, and ride from... well, where?

So I called up Amtrak today and asked something like this:
I: where I can get to from NYC, with my bicycle as checked baggage?
Amtrak: Where do you want to go?
I: Anywhere I can go with a bike as checked baggage.
Amtrak: You have to tell me your desired destination.
I: Okay, how about Montreal?
Amtrak: No, you can't go to Montreal. That train doesn't have a baggage car.
I: Okay how about Boston?
Amtrak: No, you can't go to Boston. That train doesn't have a baggage car.
I: Montpelier?
Amtrak: No, that station does not have baggage facilities.
I: Burlington?
Amtrak: No, that station does not have baggage facilities.
I: Plattsburgh?
Amtrak: No. That train doesn't have a baggage car.
I: Montpelier?
Amtrak: No, that station does not have baggage facilities.
I: Okay, well, where can I go?
Amtrak: Where do you want to go?
I: Anywhere where I can go with a bicycle.
Amtrak: Amtrak has hundreds of destinations. I can't list them all for you.
I: I don't want you to list them all. I want you to suggest one where I can get off the train with a bicycle.
Amtrak: I can't help you with that.

In the end the agent and I agreed it would be best if I pick up the national schedule from the Amtrak information office at Penn Station on my way home. But by then (3:50 PM) the office was closed.

Anyway, I am frustrated. Advice?

Or, at least, a feel-good story that will reassure me that Amtrak and bicycle touring are not incompatible?
The agent is correct on all accounts. It really depends on where you want to go. If on the east coast, then on some trains you may have a baggage car that can hold from 2 to 4 bicycles per train. The west coast is better with up to 6 bikes per train. You need to reserve in advance for your spot in all the destinations you plan to go or at least that's what I was told. Why?

1, They can get filled up during the summer so you're SOL
2, They don't get filled up and then you're SOL

Answer = unknown.

Unless you plan to travel with a group of friends which ensures all bike hooks are taken, then it's better if you travel during the summer time. Or you travel like me with a folding bike since it is considered carry on plus I also have a folding trailer which also considered as a carry on too! Answer = always sure I get on anytime and anywhere!
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Old 06-22-12, 08:20 PM   #10
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How about Albany, NY. You couldthen ride the Mohawk trail around Albany and link up with the Erie Canal trail. Ride west, and then take the train back to NYC. From a number of towns along the trail.
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Old 06-22-12, 08:37 PM   #11
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The agent is correct on all accounts. It really depends on where you want to go. If on the east coast, then on some trains you may have a baggage car that can hold from 2 to 4 bicycles per train.
Yes, but my answer to "where do you want to go" is so very simple: "Anywhere I can go!" It boggles my mind that in order to get answers, I have to name all the places I'd like to go. And if they are all places I can't go, I would think, after I've named a dozen such places, the agent would try to help. But that is really asking too much!

As you say, some trains may have a baggage car.... The trick is to know which train, right? So I thought I'd ask. But that information appears to be kept on a need to know basis, and I, evidently, don't.

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Or you travel like me with a folding bike since it is considered carry on plus I also have a folding trailer which also considered as a carry on too! Answer = always sure I get on anytime and anywhere!
Yes, it may come to that. But I commute on a folding bike, 20 miles a day, year round... and if I'm going to take a week off for a vacation, I'd like to take one of my more comfortable bikes.


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How about Albany, NY. You couldthen ride the Mohawk trail around Albany and link up with the Erie Canal trail. Ride west, and then take the train back to NYC. From a number of towns along the trail.
Yeah... I'm actually trying to get away from home to see some unfamiliar territory. If I could put my bike on a hook on the train and snooze for a couple hours and get off there, that would be cool. But if Amtrak is going to make me box the bike and check it as baggage and pay extra for the privilege, I need to get a bit farther than Albany. I could ride there from home in a day (albeit a long one).

Last edited by rhm; 06-22-12 at 08:46 PM.
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Old 06-22-12, 09:00 PM   #12
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Okay, I have a feel-good Amtrak story, but it will just reinforce your experience with lousy telephone agents.

In '89 my wife and I were at the end of a month-long tour. We were near Seattle and didn't feel like riding down the coast to home in CA because we had been away from work for so long we were worried that the folks we worked with would realize how unimportant we were to the whole operation. Anyway, we called Amtrak and asked specifically about taking a tandem bike on the Coast Starlight. We were assured there wouldn't be a problem, so we bought our tickets and headed to town.

Well, on the appointed morning, we showed up at the station and were told by the ticket clerk that Amtrak does not take tandems. We begged and pleaded and he finally told us that the conductor has total authority to allow us to bring it on or not. When we met the conductor, about ten minutes before the train would depart, he was super excited about our bike. He not only let us bring it on, he didn't make us deal with a box (good thing, no time) and said he would come down to the car it was in at every stop to make sure no one tried to take it. We just leaned it against a wall and set the parking brake (which the conductor also loved).

Of course, back then no one at Amtrak was annoyed by bikes since there were so few of them being brought on any trains.
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Old 06-22-12, 09:09 PM   #13
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Okay, I have a feel-good Amtrak story, but it will just reinforce your experience with lousy telephone agents.

In '89 my wife and I were at the end of a month-long tour. We were near Seattle and didn't feel like riding down the coast to home in CA because we had been away from work for so long we were worried that the folks we worked with would realize how unimportant we were to the whole operation. Anyway, we called Amtrak and asked specifically about taking a tandem bike on the Coast Starlight. We were assured there wouldn't be a problem, so we bought our tickets and headed to town.

Well, on the appointed morning, we showed up at the station and were told by the ticket clerk that Amtrak does not take tandems. We begged and pleaded and he finally told us that the conductor has total authority to allow us to bring it on or not. When we met the conductor, about ten minutes before the train would depart, he was super excited about our bike. He not only let us bring it on, he didn't make us deal with a box (good thing, no time) and said he would come down to the car it was in at every stop to make sure no one tried to take it. We just leaned it against a wall and set the parking brake (which the conductor also loved).

Of course, back then no one at Amtrak was annoyed by bikes since there were so few of them being brought on any trains.
Ha ha, yeah, that's often the way it is. The conductor makes the rules and is usually totally cool. I took my Counterpoint Opus II on the RiverLine train from Trenton to somewhere south of there a couple years ago --my last tour in fact-- and it turned out to be totally against the rules. No one complained; people were staring at the bike in awe, it filled the space from floor to ceiling. The conductor looked at it and just nodded as if to say 'yeah, whatever, I've seen it all now...' and didn't even ask whose bike it was. Not that that would have been hard to figure out. I don't think any conductor would have been able to bring himself to throw my daughter off a train, though!
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Old 06-22-12, 09:36 PM   #14
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Cool thread. Thanks.

Go by bus, an adventure in travel. They'll take your boxed bike. For a fee.
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Old 06-23-12, 05:59 AM   #15
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Each Amtrak line is a bit different. Some use boxes and check the bikes as luggage, but on those lines you have to make sure that where you get on and off the train at designated stations with luggage facilities. In a couple weeks I am going to get off at an Amtrak station about 20 miles further west than I want to go because the stop that I would like to get off at does not handle luggage.

Some lines don't use boxes. A couple years ago I rode across part of Missouri. Their website is clear that there is a limit of 4 bikes per train. We assumed that meant there were 4 bike racks. Nope. They told us to put our bikes on so that they were leaning against the side of the car with one wheel on the seat at the end of the car where there was enough room for the bikes. I do not recall if we used bunge cords or straps to hold them in place or not. In this case, we carried our bikes onto the train and that train did not handle luggage, everything was carry on. Their website clearly stated a limit of two carry-on items, but they charged extra for the bikes, so I assume the bikes were not part of that total. The giant red duffle/backpack in the photo is holding my four panniers and all the stuff that went in those four panniers. That meant for the rest of the trip, I was lugging around an empty duffle. In the end I think I should have just carried on the panniers separately as I think they did not care that much about number of carry-on items.

Maybe part of your problem is that you are going out of a major hub and are dealing with a lot of different lines. I have to drive 35 miles to get to a station that has one east bound train and one west bound train per day. So, count yourself as being lucky that you have so many choices.

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Old 06-23-12, 06:09 AM   #16
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Yes, but my answer to "where do you want to go" is so very simple: "Anywhere I can go!" It boggles my mind that in order to get answers, I have to name all the places I'd like to go. And if they are all places I can't go, I would think, after I've named a dozen such places, the agent would try to help. But that is really asking too much!

As you say, some trains may have a baggage car.... The trick is to know which train, right? So I thought I'd ask. But that information appears to be kept on a need to know basis, and I, evidently, don't.
How would the person you talked with know the answer to your question?

The person you talked with would have to sit there and look up each and every place on the website, just like you can do, in order to give you the answer to your question. And that would take him/her a very long time and tie up the phone needlessly.

So just start looking up each place in the general area where you want to go, and see if you'll be able to take a bicycle there or not. It's that simple.

BTW - you can load and unload a bicycle in Sacramento.
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Old 06-23-12, 06:45 AM   #17
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Boston has the "downeaster" to Portland Maine. No boxes necessary but you do need reservations.
Bikes on the Vermonter was scrapped years ago, Ny & Vermont were paying (I seem to remember) for the baggage car. For the most part with Amtrack (North East), you can't get there from here.
When I went to Boston, I had to have family drive me to Worcester, so I could get my bike on the commuter train off peak.
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Old 06-23-12, 06:48 AM   #18
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You could invest in a folding bike and stick in a bag and go wherever. I know you shouldn't need to go through all that, especially with all the federal money they get.
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Old 06-23-12, 07:42 AM   #19
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I have had great luck with Amtrak for the limited experience I have had with them. I did my homework on their web site and bought a ticket on a train with baggage service at all places where it mattered to me. When I needed to change my travel day at the last minute they were super easy to deal with on the phone and my schedule was changed with no extra charge. That was a huge contrast with the airlines I have dealt with for last minute flight changes. The day before my travel day I called the station to be sure they had a box for me. When I got to the station they were very nice and very helpful.

Greyhound buses on the other hand have been a huge pain to deal with.

Regional buses in some places were dirt cheap and very convenient if there was one that went where I wanted to go.

When all else fails I rent a car. If you go to the counter they will usually refuse to let a car go out one way, but I have never had a problem booking one online. I usually book from one airport to another. I typically book it from the airline's web site if part of the trip involved air travel. A search from the southwest site brings up all the rental car companies options for the route you want. The cost is high if it is for one person, but sometimes not so bad if there is a group of two or three splitting the cost.
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Old 06-23-12, 09:35 AM   #20
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west coast, Oakland/Emeryville, to Eugene Oregon was OK, used it several times.
'coast starlight' its a 24hour ride. [aint no high speed rail]
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Old 06-23-12, 09:53 AM   #21
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Making a reservation and taking a trip by Amtrak are two different things.

Making a reservation can be frustrating when it includes the requirement of taking a bike. The reason for this is that Amtrak doesn't have many stations that provide baggage handling and baggage handling is required to load and unload a bike from the train. As has been mentioned your best resource for narrowing this down is the Amtrak website where the stations with baggage service are shown. Amtrak is well-known for providing different answers to the same question when you ask more than one Amtrak employee.

The actual trip can be quite nice depending on a number of things; it is probably not fair to readers or to Amtrak to generalize about this. Each trip is different. Sometimes things can go wrong; sometimes trains in the US are late or behind schedule. In that sense it is like bike touring in general.

Bicycle touring requires a personal, individual resourcefulness balanced with a willingness to go with what is handed you at the time. In some cases you can seek other options but in many you can't.

When something does go wrong some people look for someone to help them, others try to rely on their own resources without seeking the help of another person and some people just tough it out and don't much look for help or alternatives. Each of those approaches is valid. You will know what your natural style of response is when you get out there and something does go wrong.

Remember what Yvonne Chiounard said, "It isn't really an adventure until something goes wrong."
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Old 06-23-12, 11:42 AM   #22
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I've had at least a dozen really good experiences with my bike on Amtrak trains or their connector buses. They were all on the west coast, so not much help. However, what I found out was that the local ticket agents are the one's who know what is going on and are really helpful. Talking to them in person is the best approach, because it is almost impossible to talk to your local station by phone. We've also had really positive experiences with Amtrak's bus drivers. Three or four times the drivers did not require our bikes to be boxed because they had an empty cargo bay that would fit 2 unboxed bikes safely. Boxing is usually required on the buses (boxing protects the bikes).

The only real issue I've had was the way they sometimes handle boxed bikes. It would be a lot better on the bikes if the boxes were not placed end down (hard on fenders). However, we've not experienced any damage to the bikes.

Last edited by Doug64; 06-23-12 at 11:55 AM.
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Old 06-23-12, 12:20 PM   #23
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Originally Posted by rhm View Post
Alternately, let's try to be serious. Go to the Amtrak website, and they tell you for more information to call them. I called them. I waited on hold for a long time. My question, I think, is a reasonable one. Very few of their stations have baggage facilities. The agent does not need to name them all. To make me happy, the agent needed to engage her brain and name one. This was asking too much.
I've had good luck using Amtrak to get places. I've never tried to use them to plan my vacation from the ground up. That may be outside of their training. Starting with a destination seems like reasonable request.

You have a lot more routes than I do here, so you also have a lot more options. In my area I haven't found that there is a lack of baggage stations, just that there are more stations that don't handle baggage. If you start out with nothing more than a direction or train line, you can download the schedule for that line and see all the stations that have baggage service.

I've gone in-state a number of times because there are some in-state lines that don't require bike boxing. Just reserve a spot and you're set. Earlier this month I took my first long-distance trip. I knew I was going to be in north east Ohio, and looking at a couple of routes, it seemed clear that Cleveland was my closest station option that took baggage. I had to swich trains in DC, and the connection was kind of tight given that some trains can run late. The ticketing system wanted me to stay in DC overnight rather than count on making my connection, but I decided to risk it, and just bought my tickets on two transactions. Got to the Cleveland station a couple of hours ahead of time since it was my first time traveling with a boxed bike. Bought a box. My bike fit in easily, although I had to remove my handlebars(and pedals, which is standard), which I expected. Had lots of time sort out the rest of my baggage. Checked my bike and carried everything else on. No problems. Amtrak folks were helpful and pleasant. Got into DC on time, claimed my bike, rechecked it on the next leg, and finished my trip. Again everyone was pleasant and helpful, even though I confused them by having booked the two legs of my trip separately. I had to pay a 2nd checked bike fee as a result, although I got the impression that I could have gotten out of that if I had complained, but I didn't want to make a fuss. Especially since the confusion was a result of my tricking the ticketing system into letting me make a tight connection. Next train left on time. Got home on time. The bike was reassembled in minutes. I persuaded my wife to pick up the rest of my luggage, so that I didn't have to repack the bike. So I was able to make great time home from the station.

Before the trip, I thought the worst part of my vacation was going to be having to travel with my bike, but Amtrak made that really easy, and now I'm looking for other places I can go.
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Old 06-23-12, 01:03 PM   #24
ZippyThePinhead
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Making a reservation and taking a trip by Amtrak are two different things. Making a reservation can be frustrating when it includes the requirement of taking a bike.
This is correct. With respect to anything Amtrak, my limited experience is that there is often a difference between what is said and what is done.

Last year I did a century (Anaheim to San Diego) where we planned to take the Amtrak back. That day, they were doing track work, so they were sending everyone departing San Diego by bus. I called them in advance and they told me "no bikes." So we made arrangements for the bikes to be hauled back by another means.

As we exited the bus from San Diego, we noticed a couple of cyclists pulling their bikes from the baggage hold in the bottom of the bus. Did they slip the driver a $20 bill? We'll never know, in all likelihood. Anyway, it was clear the "no bikes" rule was not enforced evenly.
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Old 06-23-12, 02:10 PM   #25
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Using amtrak for a short weekend trip can be painful and/or expensive. Bringing a bike requires a tedious fine print read on each route.

The only A+ Amtrak line I have used is the "Capitol Corridor."

"Cascades" is ok but a bit $$ for distance traveled.

Honestly I would choose SWA or Frontier Air unless I -really- wanted a train adventure.
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