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Dealing wtih Amtrak

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Dealing wtih Amtrak

Old 06-23-07, 01:10 PM
  #1  
StanP
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Dealing wtih Amtrak

Hi Everyone,

I plan next month to put my old touring bicycle (having old type components such as non-aero brakes, etc.) on the "Empire Builder" train in Columbus, WI and travel to Williston, ND where I'd begin my bicycle adventure tour by heading north to Saskatchewan. I know that Amtrak sells bike boxes and I know one can get a cardboard bike box free at a LBS.

Does Amtrak want to inspect the contents of an unsealed box, or is it OK to bring the box sealed up when it's brought to the baggage car or baggage handler? [I know that the pedals have to be off the crank arms and the handlebars turned sideways when in the box.]

Does Amtrak keep bike boxes standing up so that the bike in the box is as it is on the road in use, or does Amtrak lay the box flat?

I'll have front & rear panniers as well as a stack made up of tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and a spare, twisted 27" tire. I know that Amtrak wants *only* the bicycle inside the box, so since I'll be traveling alone, I wonder how I'll manage to get the panniers, the stack stuff, the spare tire and probably also a smaller handlebar bag into the coach car with me. Is some of this stuff simply left unwrapped in the baggage car or does it have to go inside some big bag or box? [I wouldn't like to have to buy a special, maybe costly bag to hold the baggage and then have to discard the bag in Williston, ND.]

What are your thoughts about this? What are your experiences with Amtrak handling bicycles well or not-so-well? I'd appreciate any other advice you have for me.

Thanks
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Old 06-23-07, 02:23 PM
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1. My bicycle was sealed in the box when I brought it to the counter, and they were OK with that.

2. I have no idea how Amtrak load the bicycles ... we don't get to see that part.

3. As for my other luggage, I put it all in a canvas laundry bag (with a handle) ... like I usually do when I travel. Canvas laundry bags are great ... they are quite durable, they fold down to nothing when you arrive at your destination, you can use them as an additional mattress pad or pillow, and they cost about $12 at Walmart.

4. I've only travelled Amtrak once, but had no problem at all with how they handled my bicycle and my luggage in general.

HOWEVER .....

1. Check to make sure the stations you are planning to use allow large luggage drop off and pick up. Only a few do and if those ones don't, you won't be able to drop your bicycle off or pick it up.

2. In your travel plans, add an extra 12 hours over and above the travel time the website and your ticket indicate. Amtrak is notorious for being late ... very, very, very late.

3. When you get off the train at your destination, do not go and hug relatives or wander aimlessless around. Make a bee-line for the first cart you see. There will likely only be 1 or 2 carts, and while everyone else is hugging relatives, that's your chance to get one. A cart makes it a lot easier to transport your bicycle in a box and your laundry bag from the train (you pick up all your stuff right there on the platform beside the train) through the station.
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Old 06-23-07, 04:36 PM
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Originally Posted by StanP
I'll have front & rear panniers as well as a stack made up of tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and a spare, twisted 27" tire. I know that Amtrak wants *only* the bicycle inside the box, so since I'll be traveling alone, I wonder how I'll manage to get the panniers, the stack stuff, the spare tire and probably also a smaller handlebar bag into the coach car with me. Is some of this stuff simply left unwrapped in the baggage car or does it have to go inside some big bag or box? [I wouldn't like to have to buy a special, maybe costly bag to hold the baggage and then have to discard the bag in Williston, ND.]
Machka has some great tips.

I usually buy the Amtrak box and pack up my bike at the station. I throw my lighter bulky stuff--sleeping bag, pad, tent, helmet, etc.--into the box. Nobody's ever checked inside the box or complained. I wouldn't weigh down the box too much, or else they might get suspicious. Amtrak is pretty lax about security and weight restrictions.

I bring my panniers with me as carry-ons. I see other passengers bringing on gigantic suitcases, so I don't think they care much about limits. One time I decided to check-in my panniers for convenience and they lost them, so I try to carry everything with me now.

Oh, and I've never padded my bike. I just roll it into the box, after taking off the handlebars and pedals. Never any damage yet, knock on wood.

Edit: The Amtrak boxes that I used were triangular shaped, so *most likely* they would be kept upright with nothing stacked on top. If you're going that route, you should call first to make sure they have them in-stock.

Last edited by ronzorini; 06-23-07 at 08:10 PM.
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Old 06-23-07, 05:07 PM
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I'd call Amtrak and see if you can just roll your bike onto the train. I think some lines will have a bike storage area.

I would assume that any box you give them will be, to a certain extent, manhandled. I'd pad and zip-tie the thing pretty securely.
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Old 06-24-07, 08:26 AM
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I rode the Empire Builder last year from Chicago to Whitefish MT. Bikes have to be boxed. There is no roll-on service for the Empire builder. The Amtrak box is $15 and I put my front panniers ,pad and tent in the box also. Nice thing about the Amtrak box is you only have to remove the pedals and twist the handlebars and roll into the box. with a bike shop box you will also have to remove the front pannier rack and depending on the box possibly the rear rack. Though the bike box may ride up-right in the baggage car it is usually laid flat on the baggage cart between the station and platform so there may be some other baggage piled on top of it. I usually stuff my tent or one of the front panniers inside of the frame triangle to avoid any possible damage.
As Machka said expect the train to be very late. I was over 3 hours late getting to Whitefish last year. BTW food is expensive on Amtrak, The dinners on the Empire are quite good but start at about $15. The snack bar fare generally sucks on Amtrak IMO.

I tie my panniers together to count as one carry-on bag.

Amtrak is supposedly stepping up security this year meaning that all bags and luggage are subject to search. Amtrak's baggage rules are enforced mostly on the whim of the station agent or train conductor, so don't piss them off.

Last edited by Hartmann; 06-24-07 at 08:39 AM.
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Old 06-24-07, 11:02 AM
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If you do choose to use an Amtrak box - call the station beforehand and make sure that they have one. Columbus, WI isn't a big station and they may not have any on hand. Also, the Amtrak boxes are big - but big isn't necessarily better since your bike can flop around. They have gorillas in the baggage car.

I had the station agent in Everett, WA sent my bike to a different city than the one I was going to two years ago. Make sure the station code (WTN) on your ticket matches the tag the station agent tapes on your bike box. There are a few other "W" stops like Winona, Whitefish, and Wenatchee.

Oh - and expect the train to be late getting there. The Empire Builder has been running anywhere from a few minutes to four hours late - averaging about 1 hour late. Amtrak time. But DON'T expect the train to be late from your departing station. If YOU are late getting to the station, Amtrak will ALWAYS be on time. Murphy's Law ;-)
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Old 06-24-07, 06:49 PM
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Use the AMTRAK 800 number and ask them to order a box for the start location. BTW, they can and will answer all your questions more authoritatively then those who rode last year.

P
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Old 06-24-07, 07:19 PM
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Even better ... use modern technology and check the website:
http://www.amtrak.com/servlet/Conten...mtrak/HomePage

Click on Station and look up both stations. With a few clicks, the OP will discover that he can load his bicycle at Columbus, WI but they have limited hours so he'll have to get the bicycle there between those hours. The OP will also discover that Williston, ND has extremely limited hours ... something to keep in mind.

A click on Travelling with Amtrak and a few more clicks, gives a whole page on travelling with a bicycle:
http://www.amtrak.com/servlet/Conten...53878&ssid=195

http://www.amtrak.com/servlet/Conten...554487&ssid=43

Most questions can be answered online.
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Old 06-25-07, 07:43 AM
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Once you get the bike/box thing squared away, there's a couple other things to consider. I've found the air conditioning aboard the Empire builder to be down right cold. So, wear something more than shorts/t-shirt... especially if you're going to be on the train overnight. Also, the dining car is handy, but expensive. Packing your own food and drink will save you some bucks.

Last edited by drcrash; 06-25-07 at 08:14 AM.
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Old 06-25-07, 03:15 PM
  #10  
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Originally Posted by petralynn
"BTW, they can and will answer all your questions more authoritatively then those who rode last year."
Haven't ridden Amtrak much have you ?
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