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Living Car Free Do you live car free or car light? Do you prefer to use alternative transportation (bicycles, walking, other human-powered or public transportation) for everyday activities whenever possible? Discuss your lifestyle here.

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Old 09-12-17, 01:11 PM   #1
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Train-bicycle outings

I thought this year I would do some day-cycling trips facilitated by rail - ie. load the bike on the train and go a little way out of town, and either bike home, or bike around the rural area and the take the train home.

It turns out the major passenger rail, VIA, makes this almost impossible. You can only take your bike on a train with a baggage car, and they tend to be afternoon or evening trains only. However the regional commuter train, GO, allows you to carry bikes onto the passenger car if it is outside rush hour or your direction is against the usual rush hour direction.

So yesterday, I biked 11km down to the outdoor Exhibition Station (a little farther than Union Station, but you can bike right onto the platform) for an 11am GO train. I almost fell on my face boarding the train because the outdoor first step, sort of like a truck running board, is tiny. There is bench of 3 seats right in the doorway vestibule that are reserved for cyclists in non-rush hour, where you can lean your bike on some poles and hold it while seated, so it was pretty comfortable riding the 45 minutes to Appleby Line. In fact, once I realized the bike only wanted to roll one way, I just needed to put my ankle next to the pedal to hold it.

From Appleby Station I biked 2-3 km down to Lakeshore Blvd and started taking the Waterfront Trail back to Toronto (about 60 km). It's an annoying mix of asphalt and gravel trails, city streets, paved highway shoulders, and a few linking sections of high speed busy streets with no bike amenities, and with very inadequate signage. I had a map on a pdf on my phone and every 10-15 minutes I had to stop and check the map.

There are a few irritating spots where you cross a creek or an inlet on a bridge on Lakeshore Blvd, bike down to the waterfront for 1-2 km and then have to bike back up to Lakeshore to cross another inlet, so for some of those U-shaped sections, especially after a couple of hours, I just stayed on Lakeshore, perhaps missing some scenic spots on the waterfront. However most of the time, if I could follow the shore, I did.

In theory the shoreline of the Great Lakes is supposed to be public property, but some older municipalities were developed before that principle was established, so some areas have properties that extend right to the water, and for the time being, their private shoreline is being respected and you have to loop around them. However, many parts of the shore consist of large, well treed parks, and even on Lakeshore Blvd some sections are not too busy, and lined with estates and institutions that maintain a large tree canopy, so you can still feel like you are in nature much of the time. Certainly the coyote trotting across the road 20 m in front of me in Oakville thought so.

Being a shoreline trail it's mostly flat, but here and there there are some slightly hilly sections. The farther I went, the more I noticed them

Closer to downtown Toronto, the trail is a well marked asphalt MUP that I have often found too congested for my liking, but on a September weekday it's obviously not as crowded as on a July weekend. I didn't take it all the way downtown, but veered off and headed uptown close to where I had boarded the train, and more or less followed my usual commuter route from near my office home.

My Garmin watch pooped out part way home, but based on what it did record, supplemented by gmap-pedometer.com, I biked about 80km, and I don't feel too bad today.

I passed a guy walking with a massive Google camera mounted on backpack straps at one spot, between the Mimico and Humber arched bridges, I think, so I'll have to keep checking Google streetview to see if I appear.

My next plan is to take the train to near Hamilton, ON, and bike out and back to Albion Falls. I might use Appleby Station as my launch pad again, so I can cover adjacent sections of the Waterfront Trail.

Anybody else doing something with the train?

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Old 09-12-17, 01:24 PM   #2
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Our club has rides from time to time starting from the Amtrak station in Martinez, CA and riding up to Davis and then returning by train (Capitol Corridor). A number of the train cars are equipped with bike racks at the ends and are marked with a bike symbol near the door. So you wheel the bike in and hang it from the front wheel in one of the racks before finding a seat. Those wanting a longer ride sometimes extend this by riding to Sacramento and catching the train there.
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Old 09-12-17, 01:58 PM   #3
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Our club has rides from time to time starting from the Amtrak station in Martinez, CA and riding up to Davis and then returning by train (Capitol Corridor). A number of the train cars are equipped with bike racks at the ends and are marked with a bike symbol near the door. So you wheel the bike in and hang it from the front wheel in one of the racks before finding a seat. Those wanting a longer ride sometimes extend this by riding to Sacramento and catching the train there.
Are there a few choices of train, in case people get there late or for those going on to Sacramento?
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Old 09-12-17, 02:20 PM   #4
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I like combining rail and bike. There's enjoyable things about both. I particularly enjoyed a tour a few years ago I left my house and headed towards Alabama, taking the Silver Comet trail. Then road thru Simpsy Wilderness, where dispersed/wild camping is legal. Continued into Mississippi and down the Natchez Trace, detouring to visit family. Then I bought a bicycle box at Amtrak in Meridian and road home to Atlanta. Put my handlebars and pedals on and returned home. I wild camped for three weeks and stayed in a motel every few days.
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Old 09-12-17, 04:26 PM   #5
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I like combining rail and bike. There's enjoyable things about both. I particularly enjoyed a tour a few years ago I left my house and headed towards Alabama, taking the Silver Comet trail. Then road thru Simpsy Wilderness, where dispersed/wild camping is legal. Continued into Mississippi and down the Natchez Trace, detouring to visit family. Then I bought a bicycle box at Amtrak in Meridian and road home to Atlanta. Put my handlebars and pedals on and returned home. I wild camped for three weeks and stayed in a motel every few days.
It sounds like Amtrak might be a bit more bike-friendly than VIA, in having more trains that carry bikes. However VIA does claim that most baggage cars have bike racks, so if you can get your bike on the train at all, you likely won't have to box it.

I do have the suitcase trailer but haven't tried it yet. I've only used it as a dog trailer so far.

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Old 09-12-17, 04:41 PM   #6
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Some 40 years ago we negotiated a similar policy for NYC's commuter lines. This codified an older unwritten policy allowing bikes on the platforms, and was necessary because the new electrified rolling stock eliminated the platforms.

Anyway, I still make use of the trains, either to skip the near in urbanized roads, or for one way rides.

However, I've found it advantageous to ride out somewhat parallel to the line, and rail home. Riding out and rail back means I can ride as far as I feel like, and end the ride on a whim, instead of having a fixed destination.

We also have three lines that spread as they go out, and I live close in so all three lines pass fairly close to my home. One of my favorite ways to take advantage is to use one line out, then ride a nice loop in the country, ending on another for the ride home. This is like enjoying the meat in a sandwich, without eating the bread.
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Old 09-12-17, 05:12 PM   #7
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I was hoping to take my bike on a (work) trip to South Bend, IN a few months ago. It would have been nice to have the bike to get around Chicago during an overnight stay between trains and then around South Bend.

Sadly, the South Shore Line - the commuter rail between Chicago and South Bend - did not allow bikes at the time.

It would be nice to have trains or even regional buses that go out and back in the same day. When I lived in Denver, I enjoyed riding out 30-40 miles and then catching a bus back home.
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Old 09-12-17, 05:51 PM   #8
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I still make use of the trains, either to skip the near in urbanized roads, or for one way rides.

However, I've found it advantageous to ride out somewhat parallel to the line, and rail home. Riding out and rail back means I can ride as far as I feel like, and end the ride on a whim, instead of having a fixed destination.
I thought about that, but decided it would be motivating to set the distance this time. On other trips I plan to do it all 5 ways - train out/bike home, bike out/train home, train out/bike loop/same train home, train out/bike leg/different train home, bike out/train leg/bike home.
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Old 09-12-17, 06:11 PM   #9
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I thought about that, but decided it would be motivating to set the distance this time. On other trips I plan to do it all 5 ways - train out/bike home, bike out/train home, train out/bike loop/same train home, train out/bike leg/different train home, bike out/train leg/bike home.
I once rode north 60 miles to the end of the line, planning on taking the train home. But when I got to the station I was feeling good, so figured I'd ride south to the next. I did this station to station until I was about 25 miles from home and needed to decide whether to take the last train. It was close enough then I decided to just ride.

I count that as another way to use the train (6th by your count). As a safety blanket or sag wagon, allowing you to undertake a challenging ride on a whim, knowing that there's always a Plan B available.
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Old 09-12-17, 06:58 PM   #10
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Are there a few choices of train, in case people get there late or for those going on to Sacramento?
Yes, the train back from Sacramento (and through Davis) is a regular commuter run with roughly an hour between trains.
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Old 09-12-17, 07:16 PM   #11
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On a side note, at least some people see the potential. Bike Aboard

Decades ago, when I still had hair, our organization used to have an event where we'd charter a train on the LIRR, from NYC out to the far ed of Long Island, for a day's ride, then back by train. This ride drew hundreds (someplace either side of 800) using passenger and baggage cars. In later years, the baggage cars died by attrition until it was impossible.

I also used to run the Montauk century with a similar arrangement, whereby the LIRR added charter passenger and baggage cars to the last train from Montauk.

Bike/train arrangements are a win/win for suburban and regional rail systems, adding revenue in off peak hours, and opening up large areas for bike day touring. By the same token, it's a natural fit for intercity rail if that survives.
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Old 09-12-17, 07:30 PM   #12
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Amtrak's ridership has been booming for the past decade. Unfortunately, most of the expansion of service and amenities has been on the (L)east coast, leaving us in the west as the red-headed stepchildren. The main line west coast train, the Coast Starlight, sells out routinely but apparently there are no plans to expand service. Several times in the past few months I either got the last sleeper compartment tickets or the last coach seats, sometimes only because I could be flexible on my dates of travel, and I even snagged the last bike slots once. Even making reservations three weeks out, I couldn't get a bike slot for a five day stay in Davis on a business trip last month.

I love the train. I regularly use it alone or in conjunction with cycling. Apparently, there are more people who also love the train nowadays. I wonder if we love it enough to fund expansions to the service from the bare-bones we have now to something that could make a dent in the use of other modes. Last year, I watched in horror as my state legislators considered slashing the Cascades train service from its abysmally low level to even lower for want of $3M. This year, that same legislature found $450M to expand a freeway in Portland, as though induced demand hasn't been rigorously proven.
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Old 09-12-17, 07:50 PM   #13
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VIA is a corporate entity originally owned by the major rail line CN which was itself government owned. Eventually CN was privatised, and the feds kept VIA as a "Crown Corporation" owned by the government, but expected to make a profit. However they don't go out of their way to seek expansion opportunities. As well, the tracks are owned privately by CN and CP who give priority to their own freight trains, so VIA may not have much room to expand services.
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Old 09-13-17, 02:22 AM   #14
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I would like to be able to combine train travel with cycling here in Tasmania ... but there are no passenger trains here.
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Old 09-13-17, 02:24 AM   #15
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We did, however, do a train-bicycle trip about a year and a half ago on the mainland ...

http://www.bikeforums.net/18527279-post2.html
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Old 09-13-17, 05:29 AM   #16
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When I lived in Victoria, I either would ride or catch a bus to the nearest train station north of Melbourne, and travel into the city centre, or much further afield to ride, either for tours or randonnees. I did the same when I lived in Perth, and was just starting out as a cyclist 20 years ago. In both cases, the trains were equipped with areas for bikes.

It was a lot of fun, and I miss it greatly because, as Machka says, passenger trains don't exist in Tasmania.

We've also made a lot of use of trains with our bikes when travelling through Europe and the United Kingdom.
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Old 09-13-17, 11:25 AM   #17
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Used trains in east & west Europe.. none come out here.. to get on Amtrak I have to take a bus 2 hours to the nearest station.
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Old 09-14-17, 10:50 AM   #18
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Amtrak's ridership has been booming for the past decade. Unfortunately, most of the expansion of service and amenities has been on the (L)east coast, leaving us in the west as the red-headed stepchildren. The main line west coast train, the Coast Starlight, sells out routinely but apparently there are no plans to expand service. Several times in the past few months I either got the last sleeper compartment tickets or the last coach seats, sometimes only because I could be flexible on my dates of travel, and I even snagged the last bike slots once. Even making reservations three weeks out, I couldn't get a bike slot for a five day stay in Davis on a business trip last month.

I love the train. I regularly use it alone or in conjunction with cycling. Apparently, there are more people who also love the train nowadays. I wonder if we love it enough to fund expansions to the service from the bare-bones we have now to something that could make a dent in the use of other modes. Last year, I watched in horror as my state legislators considered slashing the Cascades train service from its abysmally low level to even lower for want of $3M. This year, that same legislature found $450M to expand a freeway in Portland, as though induced demand hasn't been rigorously proven.
It would be so great if you could actually protest the $450M freeway to the point where people were begging to at least spend $3M on the train line.
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Old 09-14-17, 08:30 PM   #19
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It would be so great if you could actually protest the $450M freeway to the point where people were begging to at least spend $3M on the train line.
Have you done any train-bicycle trips, as described in this thread?
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Old 09-14-17, 09:18 PM   #20
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I've been using trains with bikes for the past 15-20 years. I noticed a lot of people having trouble using full size bikes with trains but this is where folding or collapsible bikes come to play because once covered, most rail lines won't have any issue. I've taken my Brompton on Amtrak and never had an issue. A full size bike would have created problems.

I've seen on YouTube a number of people using soft bags to cover a full size bike. However, the issue of removing the derailleur is a pain so I recommend using a bike with an internal gear hub if you're going to collapse it into a bag.

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Old 09-15-17, 12:33 AM   #21
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I've been using trains with bikes for the past 15-20 years. I noticed a lot of people having trouble using full size bikes with trains but this is where folding or collapsible bikes come to play because once covered, most rail lines won't have any issue. I've taken my Brompton on Amtrak and never had an issue. A full size bike would have created problems.

I've seen on YouTube a number of people using soft bags to cover a full size bike. However, the issue of removing the derailleur is a pain so I recommend using a bike with an internal gear hub if you're going to collapse it into a bag.

https://youtu.be/ivyOYk4mVsc
Old touring bikes, like my Trek 720, have a little braze-on that holds the chain on the seat stay. That allows one to leave the derailleur on with a bagged bike if one sets it up to rest on the rear drop-out and saddle. The package also gets smaller if one removes the forks.
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Old 09-15-17, 12:39 AM   #22
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Old touring bikes, like my Trek 720, have a little braze-on that holds the chain on the seat stay. That allows one to leave the derailleur on with a bagged bike if one sets it up to rest on the rear drop-out and saddle. The package also gets smaller if one removes the forks.
IMO - the minute you get involved with a bag and partly taking the bike apart to fit it, the entire bike & train dynamic changes. Mainly because you have the question of what to do with the bag.

Of course, one may sew a bag special for this application, using light weight fabric, reinforced with a web strap or two, and roll it up and stow it for the ride. Or you might simply take your chances and stow the bag behind some shrubbery near the station. But it's still not the same as seamlessly hopping on and off a train with your bike.
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Old 09-15-17, 02:32 AM   #23
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IMO - the minute you get involved with a bag and partly taking the bike apart to fit it, the entire bike & train dynamic changes. Mainly because you have the question of what to do with the bag.

Of course, one may sew a bag special for this application, using light weight fabric, reinforced with a web strap or two, and roll it up and stow it for the ride. Or you might simply take your chances and stow the bag behind some shrubbery near the station. But it's still not the same as seamlessly hopping on and off a train with your bike.
I've bought bicycle boxes from Amtrak and then just donate the box back to Amtrak when I get to the destination. If the train is an isolated leg of your trip it only costs $10.
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Old 09-15-17, 05:03 AM   #24
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Bags and boxes make sense for long-haul train trips. Again, in Australia, the ones I have done have involved simply rolling the bikes on board the luggage van.

The one long-haul trip I did in the US was the Coast Starlight from LA to Seattle. The bike was put in a box as required and went under the carriage where my seat was allocated.

The unfortunate part about that trip was that the seat next to me was occupied by a drunk who stank of alcohol. I spent as much time as I could in the panorama car, and at one stage crept down to the luggage compartment under my carriage to sleep. It was something I don't want to repeat.

The trip also really did highlight the issues with a passenger train service running on tracks owned by a freight company. There were a number of occasions when the Starlight was put on to spur lines to wait for (very long) freight trains to pass by, most of them carrying lumber or plywood. It also meant that the train was very late arriving in Seattle, and I found out later that this is much more normal than unusual.
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Old 09-15-17, 06:02 AM   #25
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Have you done any train-bicycle trips, as described in this thread?
I've taken bikes on trains when I was in Europe. I have biked to train stations in the US, but never taken the train after arriving by bike, because I wouldn't want to leave my bike at the train station while I was gone. Taking the train car-free was a hassle, as I remember, because the bus that went to the train station left from another city early in the morning, so I had to bike the day before and camp for the night in order to catch the bus to the station, where I had to wait many hours for the train.

Sometimes multimodal transit can seem like a punishment for LCF. I've found that it can save time to just ride a bike for an entire day or more rather than sit and wait on buses and trains. It's a hassle, because if you pay to camp you end up spending more than you would spend to drive if you had a car, but then if you consider what you'd spend on the car, insurance, etc. it's not as much. The way I see it, if you're putting in 12 hours of manual labor to bike 100 miles, you deserve a free camping spot at least as much as a truck driver who puts in 12 hours to ship a truckload of cars to a dealership.
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