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Tandem A-OK on Amtrak California Zephyr

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Tandem A-OK on Amtrak California Zephyr

Old 06-14-19, 11:11 AM
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sapporoguy
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Tandem A-OK on Amtrak California Zephyr [or not? See addendum]

We just got on at Emeryville, destination Denver, with our Speedster in baggage car.
No problem! Totally routine.
Info online is wrong. Amtrak 800-number agents on phone, who gave two different answers, both wrong. Train station phone always busy.
My wife finally went to the station, and an agent assured her tandems were fine as long as we could lift it to the baggage-car door.
Which is exactly how it worked.
We paid $20 to reserve the bike spot when we got tix.
Hope this helps someone.


All aboard! Even tandems!

Last edited by sapporoguy; 06-16-19 at 07:05 AM. Reason: New info
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Old 06-14-19, 11:37 AM
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That is awesome news. Was just researching this recently and had given up hope based on their online FAQ as well as other articles I had read from folks who travel with tandems.

Standard answer was "due to our vertical mounting system, only standard bicycles can be stored on trains. We will adapt trains in future to handle other types of vehicles. Blah blah."

So maybe your route has the new adaptations? Was it stored vertically? or in another area?
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Old 06-14-19, 12:20 PM
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Originally Posted by unikid View Post
So maybe your route has the new adaptations? Was it stored vertically? or in another area?
I’m not sure. I just passed it up and he happily took it as if it happens all the time. It’s the baggage car so I suspect he strapped it down.
I’ll post again when we get to Denver and report how the bike looks at that end.
Everybody at Emeryville and the guy in the baggage car acted as if it was totally normal. I wish they’d communicate better. I spent considerable mental resources figuring out contingency plans—got there 2 hrs early in case we had to break it down and box it up; had our son drive us to station instead of riding there—that was totally unnecessary. The Amtrak website and the very friendly people on the phone were worse than useless: if we’d paid heed we would have broken the bike down and boxed it. I’m not sure why my wife had to physically go to the station to find it was fine.
YMMV!
But don’t take no for an answer.
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Old 06-14-19, 02:25 PM
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If you don't get the answer you want, talk to someone else! I learned this when flying from SFO to Milan via Frankfurt. Car rental in Frankfurt was $600 less than in Milan ($900 vs. $300 for two weeks in '97) so I canceled my Milan car rental and reserved in Frankfurt. Once we arrived in Frankfurt, we told a Lufthansa ticket agent we weren't taking our connection to Milan. She said, "Nein! Das ist verboten!" (No, that's not allowed!) Baloney I thought, so went to another ticket agent at another counter and she said, "Kein problem!" (No problem!) and arranged to get our luggage off the plane.

So that's when I learned the value of finding the right person to speak with. So glad to hear Amtrak is so accommodating to not only bikes, but tandems too.
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Old 06-14-19, 02:48 PM
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Originally Posted by sapporoguy View Post
I’m not sure. I just passed it up and he happily took it as if it happens all the time. It’s the baggage car so I suspect he strapped it down.
I’ll post again when we get to Denver and report how the bike looks at that end.
Everybody at Emeryville and the guy in the baggage car acted as if it was totally normal. I wish they’d communicate better. I spent considerable mental resources figuring out contingency plans—got there 2 hrs early in case we had to break it down and box it up; had our son drive us to station instead of riding there—that was totally unnecessary. The Amtrak website and the very friendly people on the phone were worse than useless: if we’d paid heed we would have broken the bike down and boxed it. I’m not sure why my wife had to physically go to the station to find it was fine.
YMMV!
But don’t take no for an answer.
Thanks!
This is one of the first sites I read that stopped me in my tracks: https://www.adventurecycling.org/blo...re-to-find-it/ Maybe you can share your experience in their comments section at the bottom.
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Old 06-16-19, 07:12 AM
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Or maybe not! [addendum]

In Denver, the guy in the baggage car demanded gruffly: “who let you put this on? We don’t take tandems.” I told him Emeryville, that 4 people there said it would as ok as did the train crew person. He said he’d have to contact them. I said why was that the rule and he said he wasn’t sure, but it was the rule.
The tandem fit fine and didn’t seem to hinder anything.
how can we lobby Amtrak to welcome us?
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Old 06-16-19, 09:53 AM
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Originally Posted by sapporoguy View Post
In Denver, the guy in the baggage car demanded gruffly: “who let you put this on? We don’t take tandems.” I told him Emeryville, that 4 people there said it would as ok as did the train crew person. He said he’d have to contact them. I said why was that the rule and he said he wasn’t sure, but it was the rule.
The tandem fit fine and didn’t seem to hinder anything.
how can we lobby Amtrak to welcome us?
Uh oh - hopefully you don't have problems getting back home again.

This is the site the Denver guy is likely quoting from: https://www.amtrak.com/bikes. And the one we need to lobby/hope gets changed.

Either to get the Checked Baggage size limit increased to a higher number or to wait until they can accommodate tandems in their Carry-On racks.

I was looking to get from SoCal up to Crater Lake using the train with our tandem but would be scared based on what I am reading and what you are experiencing.
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Old 06-16-19, 01:03 PM
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I have several acquaintances who are amtrak employees, 1 engineers and a couple conducters. In speaking with them, amtraks policy is a clear "no tandems allowed" however it is ultimately at the discretion of the conductor running that particular route. They did all concur however that a coupled tandem that was split prior to boarding and could hang from the standard bike racks in the cars, with both captain and stoker having bike reservations, could not be turned away. This idea was recently successfully tested on the pacific surfliner out of san diego.
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Old 12-31-19, 08:11 PM
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Oh, how I wish.

Just spent the weekend at Union Station in Denver (very cool hotel in the station) with my wife, and took the opportunity to chat up both the ticket agent AND the baggagemaster on duty at the Amtrak station, in anticipation of a possible biking trip in Wisconsin next summer.

Bike friendly? Yep! Just pay the $20 fee and hand the bike up to the attendant in the baggage car.

Cool! Tandems? Nope.

Tandems broken down into a single, taped-together Frankensteinesque elongated bike box? Nope.

Really? Really.

One tandem broken down into 2 separate, single-bike boxes (frame in one, I suppose/hope; wheels etc. in the other)? Sure. Each one charged a separate baggage fee.

I didn't have your OP to show them - but Emeryville! -- and I don't suspect it would have made any difference.
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Old 01-01-20, 09:30 AM
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Ancient history so irrelevant to current policies but maybe relevant to real world in practice. At end of tour, we had tickets to go from Whitefish back to Bay Area via Portland on Amtrak. I think policy was bike had to be boxed. We rolled into West Glacier and I went into Amtrack station there to see if they could tell me if there were boxes available in Whitefish so I could box up the tandem. The agent told me a cyclist had been killed on the highway to Whitefish the previous week and there was no way she was letting us cycle there. She radioed the train and told them a tandem was going to be loaded there. West Glacier wasn’t even a baggage stop. I helped load the bike into the baggage car. When we got to Portland another agent got me two boxes and helped me box the bike up for the next leg! This would’ve been 1982 though.
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Old 01-02-20, 11:07 AM
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If only Amtrak could keep a reasonable schedule and get to where you want to go on time. Amtrak stations? Locked up and bathrooms terrible.
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Old 01-02-20, 01:08 PM
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In our experience, on any route other than perhaps the commuter lines in the Northeast, you don't take Amtrak if you absolutely Must Arrive On Time. You take Amtrak because it's a less stressful, more humane experience than airline travel. You take Amtrak because you have the time and a book you want to finish. You take Amtrak because the baggage allowances are generous. You take Amtrak because you can actually sleep while in transit. You do not take Amtrak if you can't afford to arrive 48 hours later than scheduled.

In geographically compact and densely populated Europe, as in the US Northeast Corridor, trains are considered a near-daily utility and, as such, reliable, timely function is Job 1. When making a trip across the fruited plain, however, train travel is more of an an excursion. It's not a utility; it's an experience. When Point B is four time zones away from Point A, a train is going to lose to the economics and precision of airline travel. If you choose Amtrak over United for long-distance travel, it's not because of cost or reliability. You choose the train for other values.

Someday, one of those values may be a train's excellent suitability to hauling tandem bicycles long distances without having to reduce them to a pile of bolts in a box. Someday, you'll take Amtrak because they actually follow through on their bike-friendly marketing spiel, tandems included. But, as Aragorn said to the Army of the West, "it is not this day."

We've never encountered locked stations or terrible bathrooms. I'm sure they're out there, somewhere. But it's not a universal condition.

Last edited by JeffandKathy; 01-02-20 at 01:40 PM.
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Old 01-03-20, 12:16 PM
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Originally Posted by JeffandKathy View Post
You take Amtrak because it's a less stressful, more humane experience than airline travel.
Totally agree! OP here. We've taken the Zephyr 6 times eastbound, SF Bay to Iowa, and once westward in the past 5 years, most recently this Thanksgiving; 48 hours of bliss, if you get sleepers. The latest we've ever been is about 2 hours, but mostly on time. We've also ridden Amtrak from NY to Chicago, from D.C. to Pittsburgh, from Iowa to Kansas, in the past 5 years, and never a bad ride. And we haven't seen bad bathrooms, either.

Update on tandem: When we got Emeryville for our pre-Thanksgiving trip on the Zephyr, I asked the clerk if they allow tandems. "Not anymore. Someone from Denver complained this summer." Oops, that would have been the cranky by-the-book bureaucratic to-hell-with-the-customer employee the confronted us in Denver this summer.

There's zero reason they can't take tandems. When they took ours last summer, it didn't get in the way. The baggage car is almost always half empty--I've looked!
It's just a rule that needs to change if Amtrak cares about customer service and keeping loyal riders happy.
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Old 01-03-20, 12:37 PM
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Here's the baggage car with bike racks on the Amtrak California Zephyr in November, at Denver station, a day after the Emeryville agent told me they can no longer take tandems because someone in Denver put a stop to it. As you can see, there's a bit of room where a tandem could live without getting in the way.

There were more bikes in the racks in California, but still plenty of room, as you can see on the right and deep in. An enterprising employee could easily find a place for one--or many--tandems.

On the westward return leg, Thanksgiving weekend, the baggage car was nearly empty (sorry for dirty window). Again, no reason they couldn't take a tandem other than that it's policy for whatever reason.


xxx
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Old 01-03-20, 01:59 PM
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We have a Comotion that we can split quickly and easily at the front set of couplers in front of the captain’s seat post. In fact that’s how I transport it in our small EV as it takes no more time or effort than using a rack. Would there be any reason that the two halves of the bike couldn’t ride in the normal racks in the baggage car?
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Old 01-03-20, 03:34 PM
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Originally Posted by reburns View Post
We have a Comotion that we can split quickly and easily at the front set of couplers in front of the captain’s seat post. In fact that’s how I transport it in our small EV as it takes no more time or effort than using a rack. Would there be any reason that the two halves of the bike couldn’t ride in the normal racks in the baggage car?
We have a Co-Motion Speedster Co-Pilot, S&S couplers (see first photo in this thread). I've read that with self-serve bike racks, Amtrak will let you split up a tandem on two racks if you pay for them. But the Zephyr isn't self-serve. You have to hand your bike up to the conductor, as shown above. I doubt the conductor would be willing to handle two disjointed chunks of bike, although I may be wrong. Anyone out there have experience with this?
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