As cities like Chicago continue to improve access for cyclists, more people are choosing to get around on two wheels to bypass traffic, get healthier or explore new areas (including new places to eat!). Realizing the positive financial impact cyclists have to a community, the Michigan Department of Transportation has been working closely with Amtrak to accommodate bikes on its train routes. Amtrak is welcoming bikes on the Port Huron-Lansing-Chicago route.
As avid bikers, my husband and I were thrilled to learn that our bikes now can travel with us aboard Amtrak Blue Water. Cyclists have reason to rejoice. As of September 6, bicycles are being accepted aboard the Amtrak Blue Water (Trains 364 and 365), a service sponsored by the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) that operates daily between Port Huron and Chicago via East Lansing and Kalamazoo.
“Bicycle travel and tourism is important in the state of Michigan,” says Tim Hoeffner, director of the MDOT Office of Rail, in a press release. “Amtrak inclusion of bike service on Blue Water trains is beneficial for Michigan travelers.”
Taking Bikes on Amtrak
We often like to take our bikes — not our cars — when we travel. It makes it easier to stop by and check out new coffee shops or places to dine and just enjoy the landscape. Often that means having to hassle with partially disassembling our bikes to fit it into a box that goes in the luggage compartment. That’s what I would have had to do to take Amtrak from Chicago to Milwaukee – and paid an extra $15 or $20 for the hassle.
Currently Amtrak offers roll on and roll off services on routes in Illinois, Missouri and Michigan, and is building new rail cars with bicycles in mind so it can increase bike storage capacity within the next three years.
For riders wondering if they can bring their bike along for the ride, Magliari recommends accessing Amtrak’s website, which details which routes allow bikes onboard and the method used to check it.
Since I found the website a bit confusing when I was planning my trip to Milwaukee from Chicago, Magliari recommended I try chatting with their online Virtual Chat Assistant Julie or by calling 800-USA-RAIL.
Bikes Rides Comfortably on Amtrak
Amtrak is making progress, notes Magliari. The company worked closely with the League of Michigan Bicyclists and MDOT to modify the cars on the Blue Water route to safely transport bicycles without sacrificing the rider experience.
“The bikes traveling on the Blue Water route occupy the café car,” adds Magliari. “When we looked at modifying the cars to accommodate the bikes, we considered several factors including where we could secure the bikes and where could they be held safely so they wouldn’t injure any passengers. We also did not want to lose coach seating or affect access for those with disabilities.”
The Blue Water route allows up to four bikes per train, every day of the week, and Magliari expects they’ll be running at capacity very soon. “The Blue Water Route is a popular route that serves two large college markets (Michigan State and Western Michigan) and several bicycle-friendly communities,” says Magliari. “We’ll be busy on big travel weekends and since New Buffalo and Port Huron are waterfront communities, they are popular destinations for getaway weekends.”
Long bikes rides are done sans kids. We’re not the only ones who enjoy the ride without kids. Alecia Hoobing (aka Culture TravelingMom) and her husband and friends recently rode their rented bikes along the Tour de France route up the Alpe d’Huez.
Others, like Mary Dixon Lebeau (aka EastCoast TravelingMom), welcome biking with their kids. She especially loves the fact that her Philadelphia home in near several great bike paths to ride.
While Chicago has great paths, too, we love to explore new areas outside our city. Knowing we can roll on and off with our bikes intact is even more important when we’re riding with our kids, though, since then we don’t have to worry about disassembling their bikes. We can make plans to ride the train with our bikes and once we get off, ride and explore a new destination with them. The journey is just as much fun as the destination.
Fee to Bring Bikes on Amtrak
There is a $10 charge for transporting a bike, in addition to the rail fare, and cyclists are encouraged to lock their bikes onto the brackets mounted in the café cars when they walk their bicycles on the trains.
“Status quo is not our target,” says Magliari. “We’re expanding access exponentially because we know there is growing interest. Ten years ago WiFi on trains was unheard of but it’s common today. Soon riders will have many more options to travel with their bikes, too.”