Esplanade closure begins February 1st

Citing nonexistent policy, Amtrak workers haul away Portlanders’ bikes – UPDATED

Posted by on December 3rd, 2013 at 3:11 pm

Texas Eagle

The Texas Eagle in Austin, Tex.
(Photo by Ian Westcott.)

[See official response from Amtrak in update at end of story.]

Amtrak apologized Tuesday to a Portlander traveling through Texas who said train workers woke her up and yelled at her for having a folding bicycle as carry-on luggage — something the national rail service allows.

“Unfortunately, we have found that Amtrak employees at all levels tend to be unaware of the company’s policy’s regarding bikes, folding and otherwise,” Elly Blue, a Portland-based writer who is on a business trip with her partner Joe Biel, wrote in an email. (Blue and Biel didn’t end up losing their bikes or needing to check them, though they were taken away overnight.)

“I love the train because it’s low-stress,” Blue lamented. Last night’s trip, though, was anything but.

After a series of heated discussions at 11 pm Monday with a car attendant, station attendant and station supervisor, one customer service representative speaking by phone told Blue that she and Biel would have to deboard, purchase two of Amtrak’s bike boxes and pay to check their folding bikes to their destination, despite a policy saying foldable bikes are valid carry-on baggage.

A folded Brompton bicycle.
(Photo by Christopher Lance.)

The policy is vague, however, saying only that folding bikes are allowed on “certain passenger cars,” a qualification that isn’t explained. According to Blue’s account, employees unaware of the policy seem to have interpreted that vagueness as a reason not to follow it.

Here’s the full story, from Blue, with my emphases and links added:

Joe and I travel by train a lot for business. We choose the train in large part because we can easily get to and from the stations self-sufficiently by bike. Amtrak’s bike policies are inconsistent and often inconvenient, so about a year ago we invested in Brompton folding bikes to make the process easier. So far it’s been great — according to Amtrak policy a folding bike can replace one item of carry-on luggage, and we travel pretty light so it works out perfectly. We make trips this way every few months, and on every trip at least one Amtrak employee is unfamiliar with the folding bike policy and tells us that we can’t take our bikes as carry-on. Usually, we politely explain the policy and then it’s fine. Not this time!

Last night we were sound asleep around 11pm (we have a roomette in the sleeper car on this trip) when our train (the Texas Eagle) rolled into San Antonio, where there’s an hours-long stop so it can split and the crew can change. Normally we sleep right through this process, but last night we were jarred awake by a blaring announcement on our car’s PA (which isn’t supposed to be used between 10pm and 7am), “Passenger Elly Blue, come get your bicycles immediately, you must come deal with your bicycles or they will be removed from the train.” I ran out into the vestibule in my pajamas, afraid that something was terribly wrong or someone had been hurt. But no, our two Bromptons were sitting innocently in the hallway, neatly stacked one on the other, right in front of the door, blocking all possible routes.

The new attendant for our car was really indignant that we had brought bikes on and couldn’t believe we’d been allowed on the train with them. She wanted them in the baggage car immediately where they belonged, she didn’t have room for them, what were we thinking inconveniencing our fellow passengers, didn’t we know the rules, etc. The luggage area on our train was nearly empty at this point, so I offered to show her how we normally stow the bikes and pointed out that they take up less space than several of the suitcases sitting unmolested on the shelf.

Elly Blue at WABA event

Writer and publisher Elly Blue earlier this year.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

This negotiation was heated but civil, and I think it would have resolved in a few minutes. But at this point one of the San Antonio station attendants ran up—it appeared that she’d called him for help getting the bicycles out of her car—and he started just yelling at me for bringing bikes on a train. I pointed out that they were folding bikes and asked him to look up the policy. While he went off to do that, his supervisor came up and started yelling at me also. She told me that all their policies changed this July and folding bikes are no longer allowed on as baggage. She went off to call customer service, and the guy came back with a sheet of paper with Amtrak’s bike policy on it. He handed it to me saying, still yelling (everyone on the car must have been woken up by this point) that it said that our bikes were not allowed on. I read it out loud—it’s still the same old familiar policy. He was not to be deterred, and insisted that maybe they were allowed on coach but there was no room on the sleeper cars. He also seemed to think that we had tried to store our bikes in the vestibule, in the way—where the attendant had brought them—and started yelling at us for that too.

At this point, the car attendant was trying to resolve things, apologizing, explaining that a lot of passengers were getting on at this stop and that she was stressed out about space, and asked us if we’d mind if she put the bikes in a locked compartment at the end of the car. We were willing, but miffed—why weren’t they asking the passengers with the giant suitcases that were over Amtrak’s carry on size limit to check those? Someone had just gotten off the train with four huge rolling luggages; meanwhile we were under our baggage allowance, so why were we being summoned out of bed and yelled at? She explained that this space was for guests to put their luggage, not for us to put our bikes. We pointed out that we were also guests and that according to the policy, our bikes were the same as luggage. But no, we were told again, that was not true.

Disaster Relief Trials -40

Filmmaker and publisher Joe Biel,
Blue’s partner.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

Everyone was upset, and it was late, and we were willing to just let them put the bikes in the baggage car to get it over with. But as we were working this out, the station supervisor came back with a cordless phone and set it on speaker. The customer service rep told us that it didn’t matter what kind of bikes they were, we had to take them into the station, pay to put them in Amtrak’s bike boxes, and check them through to Portland—they could not be checked without a box, she insisted. I asked her to look up the policy, and after a long pause she came back and told us that it said that folding bikes could be treated as regular luggage only if the train wasn’t full. (For the record, it doesn’t say that.)

The situation seemed like it could only continue getting worse, so I told the San Antonio staff that we’d worked it out with the attendant and she would stow the bikes. They seemed to feel vindicated, and left. The car attendant took our bikes off to the secret compartment and everyone went to bed.

The next morning we woke up… and the baggage rack in our car was still about a third empty. The attendant told us our bikes were safe and said that since the train was going to empty out she could possibly put them in their very own roomette (how romantic for them). For the record, I don’t mind the bikes being stored away from our car. It’s more the fact of being jolted awake in the middle of the night with a threat and then being berated loudly and angrily and at length about breaking rules that we were actually completely in compliance with. I also could have lived without the implication that our folding bikes were a selfish imposition on everyone else and responsible for the (imaginary as it turned out) lack of room for everyone’s bags.

This incident was unusual in that we were woken up and yelled at. Unfortunately, we have found that Amtrak employees at all levels tend to be unaware of the company’s policy’s regarding bikes, folding and otherwise. We never know what will happen or when there will be an argument or negotiation, and there’s the constant worry that someone will simply put the bikes (or us) off their train because they don’t like or understand them—I’ve heard many stories about this happening. I love the train because it’s low-stress, but when the rules are so little-known and inconsistently applied, it produces anxiety.

Bike policies and practices on Amtrak are themselves often byzantine [Russ and Laura have a great blog post about the hilarious mess that is involved in checking a bike in LA]. I’m sure it isn’t intentional, but the effect is to discourage passengers from combining rail and bike trips, which is a shame—other rail systems have done this really successfully, with, I suspect, real economic benefit to all parties.

After Blue (whose work is focused on bicycles and who spent two years as a managing editor here at BikePortland) wrote about the issue on her Twitter account, the rail service replied:

In a follow-up email to Blue, Amtrak social media director Julie Quinn added:

I want to apologize because it sounds like you received sub-par service which is never our intention. We are taking action to ensure that our employees are reminded of our onboard bike policy to try to avoid a situation like this in the future, so thank you for bringing this to our attention. We are always looking for ways to best accommodate our customers and we have been working with the cycling community for quite a while now to determine actionable solutions to provide the best accommodations for our customer with bikes.

In a separate email Tuesday, Blue’s partner Biel, a small-press publisher and filmmaker, wrote in to say that Amtrak’s past training efforts seem to him to have been consistently inadequate (emphases mine):

Even if/when Amtrak changes and develops its policies, the problem is and has always been a lack of training about said policies. It’s been this way for years. The staff don’t know about bikes, let alone about folding bikes

I’ve been doing 6-12 round trips per year for over a decade and it’s constantly a matter of showing the staff what their own policy is. This was simply the most recent and egregious offense.

We’ve reached out to Quinn to ask if she has any further comments about Blue’s account or on the value of combining train and bike travel — something we’re big fans of at BikePortland. We’ll update this post if and when we hear from Amtrak.

Update 12/3 at 5:00 pm: Vernae Graham, Amtrak’s West Coast press spokeswoman, writes to reiterate that Amtrak “apologizes for any inconvenience.” She adds: “Passengers should inquire when making their reservations, if they are unfamiliar with the bike policy on a particular route. … We are continuously working with our employees to update them on new, existing or modified policy changes.” I’ve asked Graham if this means that Amtrak has different bike policies for different routes, and if so how passengers can find this information.

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  • Chris I December 3, 2013 at 3:23 pm

    What a cluster…

    The policy seems pretty clear, and it would seem that this part addresses the Superliner cars they were in:

    “You must fold up your folding bicycle before boarding the train. You may store the bike only in luggage storage areas at the end of the car (or, in Superliners, on the lower level). You may not store bikes in overhead racks.”

    I can’t imagine this happening on the Coast Starlight. It’s all about exposure. These employees probably didn’t even know what a folding bike was until they saw these two.

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    • Hillsons December 3, 2013 at 3:52 pm

      You can buy bikes that fold up???

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    • Todd Boulanger December 3, 2013 at 4:35 pm

      It was Tejas, after all…and this section of track was one of the worst in ride quality back when I used to ride coast to coast…so I imagine they get a lot of bike exposure…plus…

      Back when I lived there there was a strong push by rural state representatives to ban rides of cyclists larger than 3ish from using state facilities.

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    • JHB December 5, 2013 at 8:45 am

      Unbelievable, but then it doesn’t surprise me since it’s here in the US. I recently did a 4 1/2 month cycling tour (self supported) through Eastern Europe and occasionally rode the trains in Latvia, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Turkey and it was an excellent experience. Roll the bike on, and hang it from a wall bike rack, and very little added cost to take the bike on the train (maybe $2). The attendants on the trains are helpful in getting the bikes/bags onto the train. Here everything has to be a f…up nightmare.

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      • C2C in2006 December 5, 2013 at 1:33 pm

        Did a similar European solo tour in 2012 from Edinburgh to Milan via Ireland, France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria and Italy with roll on/roll off regional trains used quite a few times with no problems and lots of help from station and onboard staff. Maybe just a Texas thing! If it taint a huge pickup or SUV it must be dispised.

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  • varner December 3, 2013 at 3:24 pm

    A few months ago I took a bike on Amtrak or a long weekend riding in Montana. I checked the bag to West Glacier and when I got off they wouldn’t unload my bike, claiming that they can only take off baggage in East Glacier (50 some miles away).

    After a mad dash I was able to get over there and get the bike. That said I was floored by how terrible the bike service was on Amtrak and how rude the staff were regarding this.

    Ended up having to change my return trip to be able to take the bike home. Amtrak is great in concept, poor in execution.

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    • Shiva December 3, 2013 at 9:13 pm

      You need to read up or ask before hand. I’ve gone to Glacier biking. A bike in a box is checked luggage, just like other checked luggage–ski’s for example. Amtrak has stations everywhere, but only the big stops-with the golf carts-are checked luggage stops. And smoke breaks. The small stops–they slow down and chuck you from the train. Whitefish is a luggage stop, and ski stop. 40 miles into Glacier. Otherwise, carry a backpack…..The station guys at Whitefish,MT will store your bike box even. Tell them your coming back in 3 days. The guy was storing a dozen bike boxes.

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      • BIKELEPTIC December 4, 2013 at 12:27 pm

        and ALWAYS go to Whitefish, never to Libby. Spent a week in Libby one day. My boyfriend at the time got there the day before me by separable bike and was nearly chased out of town by the police. 90 degree weather. He took off his shirt to cool off after a 70 mile ride and 3 cop cars showed up. For a bike tourist. He said he was waiting for Amtrak. They told him that he better get on the train. I showed up the next morning to a desolate town alone. Train supposed to get in at midnight. Didn’t get in until 3am. Sat huddled next to the soda machine in the unmanned station as the bar got out scared to death and a drunk guy came in to nap on the bench.

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        • Alan 1.0 December 5, 2013 at 1:59 pm

          Spent a week in Libby one day.

          That deserves some sort of literary award! Maybe a Sam Clemens Sentence Certificate?

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  • dan December 3, 2013 at 3:24 pm

    They fold down pretty darn small. Could you put them in a duffel bag and pass them off as plain old regular luggage? (As opposed dangerous and inherently offensive folding bicycles.)

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    • Erik Sandblom December 3, 2013 at 3:35 pm

      I usually bring a cover for my folding bike. That way most people don’t realize it’s a bicycle. It’s usually not necessary from a practical point of view, but as Elly’s story illustrates, what’s practical is not always the issue!

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    • Vinny December 3, 2013 at 3:35 pm

      The Brompton B-Bag soft travel case might be a good investment. As far as anyone else is concerned its just a weird looking wheeled bag. And its well below the carry on max dimensions.

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      • Erik Sandblom December 3, 2013 at 3:53 pm

        There’s also a simple cover which packs smaller and costs less. A large garbage bag also works. They might even have one on the train.

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        • Elly December 3, 2013 at 4:26 pm

          Covering the bike is probably a good idea for individuals who want to avoid hassles. But since the policy about folding bikes is so clear, there should be no need to cover them. There’s got to be a better way to do this…

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        • Todd Hudson December 3, 2013 at 5:02 pm

          Heh, this is how you get around Trimet’s beef with bringing unicycles on buses. According to their policy, you can only bring on board a folding unicycle (wtf), but if you stick your unicycle in a giant trash bag, no problem!

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    • Gordon Fox December 4, 2013 at 4:28 am

      I’m a self employed sign painter, have no car or van and ride a Brompton for my daily transport in the UK and change to buses and trains regularly to get jobs that would take me too long to get to by cycling alone usually with no problem. However the bus I use regularly that runs the 20 miles into Manchester from my town brought in a policy that folding bikes must be in bags (presumably to avoid oil marks from the chain etc). The driver let me off because it was a new policy and I bought a shoulder bag for a different model of folder later that day in Manchester and all was well. I then discovered from Japanese Brompton owner on YouTube there is an extremely cheap, lightweight option that’s very easily folded up and stowed until needed that’s ideal for the complete luggage conversion that should satisfy any Amtrak jobsworth. It’s available for only $3.99 in the US from IKEA stores

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      • Tacoma December 4, 2013 at 10:37 am

        Elly’s point “…since the policy about folding bikes is so clear, there should be no need to cover them” is spot on your note brought to mind this post from our friend Kent Peterson:

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      • JV December 4, 2013 at 2:29 pm

        I think the best would be a bag that says on it “this is not a bike” on the side.

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        • Paul in the 'couve December 4, 2013 at 2:30 pm

          “This is not the bike you are looking for”

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      • Ayleen December 5, 2013 at 9:34 am

        Your work is gorgeous.

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    • Critical Chris December 6, 2013 at 10:33 am

      We’ve finally 86’d the “bag rule” for folders here in the DC Metro system. Trust me, you don’t want to go down that road, having to bag up the bike is a pain in the tush and my bicycle is no more dirty than some of the FILTHY luggage I see folks carrying aboard.

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  • Erik Sandblom December 3, 2013 at 3:30 pm

    It’s amazing how upset people can get over bikes! Strollers, skis, no problem. Bikes: OH NO!

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    • Dan Morrison December 3, 2013 at 7:55 pm

      Probably some stop-sign-blowing, tight-pants-wearing AVID CYCLIST!

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  • ladyfleur December 3, 2013 at 3:32 pm

    ‘We apologize for the inconvenience”

    Sheesh. How about apologizing for being extremely rude to a paying passenger who was following the train’s own rules? Stories like these definitely make me think twice about traveling on non-commuter Amtrak line with a bike.

    I’ve been a goody-two-shoes rule follower ever since kindergarten. The idea of being unjustly berated and publicly humiliated in front of other passengers is beyond what I am comfortable risking.

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    • 9watts December 3, 2013 at 6:02 pm

      From the update: “Passengers should inquire when making their reservations, if they are unfamiliar with the bike policy on a particular route.”
      Haha. I think she meant, if they suspect Amtrak staff are unfamiliar with Amtrak’s bike policy…

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      • q`Tzal December 3, 2013 at 11:14 pm

        Those are the people who need accurate info.

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      • Ted Re December 4, 2013 at 12:42 pm

        Exactly! No wonder the average staff have no idea when the spokeperson is coming out with s^^t like this!

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  • Elly December 3, 2013 at 3:35 pm

    Thanks for posting this, Michael. A quick update: I’ve slept a bit, had a lot of coffee, patched things up with the car attendant and our neighbors, caught all the typos in what I sent Michael (oops), and also had a crash course in a) The huge amounts of work that several groups, particularly the Adventure Cycling Association and the Virginia Bike Federation, have been doing with Amtrak to make bike + train combinations sing ( and b) How many people really, really want to take Amtrak but don’t because of their bike policies / lack of consistent application thereof (see my twitter feed for the tip of that iceberg:

    I’m setting up a phone meeting with someone at Amtrak so we can continue the conversation. In the meantime, I think it would really help them to know about customers and potential customers’ needs in regard to bicycling. Drop them a line, email, or social media message (or comment on this post) if you care about this—I do believe we’re in a good place to be heard right now.

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    • calwatch December 3, 2013 at 5:13 pm

      You should contact Customer Relations directly to express your concerns as well – 1-800-USA-RAIL and ask to speak with them. At the very least, being a regular Amtrak customer, they should offer you a voucher for your trouble.

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      • Elly December 4, 2013 at 5:41 am

        Good tip. Yep, we reported the incident to customer relations right away. The person we talked to had some trouble understanding what the problem was, but the report was filed and I’m sure we’ll be hearing back. The system does always work, eventually.

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        • q`Tzal December 4, 2013 at 9:00 am

          Understanding the explanation or understanding that petty misapplication of bike rules by untrained staff is a problem?

          The prior is a “I didn’t hear you correctly” problem, the latter is a “so what? we don’t want your type around these parts anyways” problem.

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      • C Condit January 5, 2014 at 8:40 pm

        Well, Customer Service personnel are rude too! I no longer travel by train; my bike isn’t welcome. I have a long-wheel-base Easy Racers Gold Rush, and it isn’t allowed to travel on their precious bike cars. Or maybe it is? But I think cyclists may save pleasure train travel in this country and should be treated very very well.

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    • Nathanael December 3, 2013 at 10:32 pm

      It’s still astounding to me that so many Amtrak employees don’t know the folding-bike policy. Folding bikes are a standard thing in the whole of Europe precisely because they can be taken on *any* train as a carryon. And on Amtrak, they can *also* be taken on *any* train as a carryon… but apparently waaay too many Amtrak employees don’t have a clue!

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    • Ann December 4, 2013 at 8:14 am

      What do we really want? Roll-on bikes, at all stops. Stop requiring boxing. Stop prohibiting deboarding bikes at non-luggage stops. Do that, and watch the income from bike touring customers soar.

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      • Art Fuldodger December 4, 2013 at 3:47 pm

        I’ve used the Amtrak Cascades dozens of times because they provide roll-on service – though they too are not without their *cough* idiosyncracies. I’ve been looking at at a train return from Wenatchee to Seattle with bike next summer, but boxing a bike is a pretty major incentive to find another way to go, if the 5 am departure isn’t discouraging enough.

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    • JHB December 5, 2013 at 8:55 am

      Elly, I am a potential Amtrack customer. For years now, I leave the Colorado shortly after Christmas and fly to Thailand to meet up with a UK bike friend and we cycle through the winter through SE Asia. I absolutely detest flying anywhere within the US because of the hassle and have long wanted to just take the train from Denver to LA or SF, then take an Asia airline (no hassle) with the bike to Bangkok. Have been deterred from taking Amtrack because every time I called about the bike, no one could really tell me if I could take it or not and it’s always been a exercise in futitility with the office in Denver.

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    • Stretchy December 5, 2013 at 3:23 pm

      Is it any wonder Amtrak is losing money hand over fist. Apparently, when you can count on the feds to cover all of your losses, you don’t need to worry about the little things like serving your customers.

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  • Garlynn December 3, 2013 at 3:39 pm

    There is a huge disconnect between the Amtrak long-haul (those trains with sleeper cars) and the commuter services. Just a few weeks ago, I brought my full-size bicycle, which features a prominent and not-small wicker basket attached to its front rack, on a round-trip train journey from Emeryville to Sacramento to Stockton and back to Emeryville, using the Amtrak Capitol Corridor and San Joaquin trains.

    These trains feature bicycle racks on their lower levels in different configurations: the Capitol Corridor has three hanging bike racks at the end of most of its cars, whereas the San Joaquins features a bicycle compartment at the end of the train, which takes about about a third of the bottom of one car and has room for maybe 6-8 bikes; plus, it seems to also have combination bike/luggage racks that could potentially be pressed into service if it experienced a crush load of bicycles. All of the bike racks feature built-in cables that you can wrap around your bike and connect to your lock for security; I hooked them straight up to the frame lock I installed on this bike a few years back as part of my efforts to “Copenhagenize” it.

    The conductors on these trains know where the bicycle storage is, and happily point you towards it when they see you approaching the train with a bicycle.

    I agree that bicycle/train combinations are ideal… you get to use the bike, not just to get to and from the train station and the hotel, but also to get around in each city, go out to eat, go to meetings, see the sights, etc.

    I think it would be great if all of our trains had bike hooks for full-size bikes, not just the commuter trains but also the long-distance ones. What a benefit this would be, to be able to roll any bicycle onto any train, then get off and ride your bicycle around in any city served by trains!

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    • Richard Masoner December 3, 2013 at 4:55 pm

      @Garlynn, Capitol Corridor is not Amtrak. Although it’s operated under the “Amtrak California” brand (which is also not Amtrak), it’s funded by Caltrans, governed by the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Board, and managed and operated by BART employees.

      The other Amtrak California trains are owned, funded and managed by Caltrans but operated by Amtrak using a mix of Caltrans and Amtrak equipment.

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      • calwatch December 3, 2013 at 5:11 pm

        Capitol Corridor’s on board employees are Amtrak employees, not BART. The only Amtrak service where non Amtrak employees do anything is the Noreaster where on board food service is provided by a contractor.

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  • q`Tzal December 3, 2013 at 3:57 pm

    2 thoughts:
    (1) We have the same problem with TriMet employees going apeshit over a bicycle 1 inch “out of bounds” but luggage big enough transport 2 adult human bodies can be left wherever on the buses or trains while people block doorways and stairs. Only people with bikes seem to suffer consequences.
    (2) Amtrak really picked on the wrong person with this little stunt.

    I’m pro-government and very pro-public transit but the skeletal lich that remains from Amtrak’s heydays seems designed to be a Libertarian’s wet dream. They are more expensive than everything other than cross-country driving. They make only efforts required by law to accommodate customers.
    They have the most ineffectual travel website I’ve seen in years. Just this week I was trying to arrange for transport of a family member with a companion/service animal from SC to Portland (and a flight fobia) . I know there are connecting lines (and odds are 2+ transfers) but the website refuses to admit that there is the possibility to ride between these points. After giving up on my initial assault on their booking system I checked their animal policy. Either it is incomplete or it says only “certified service animals” (there is no formal and recognized service animal certification organization) and final approval is up to whatever staff decides when they question you.

    For a federal business I’d expect a little less personal autonomy for the employees and a lot more blind following of voluminous and specific rule books. If the employees are going to act like mindless robots I’m inclined to buy robots from Japan to replace them; at least then the employees would have access to the actual rules.

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    • Jym Dyer December 4, 2013 at 6:54 pm

      The skeletal lich is Nixon’s. It was indeed designed with libertoonian/conservative “free market” principles in mind, its meager subsidy up for public debate every year, while its competitors enjoy far greater (but more hidden) taxpayer support.

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      • q`Tzal December 5, 2013 at 2:02 pm

        +5 for libertoonian!
        As a trucker I’m constantly exposed to far right wing political view points (maybe I can file for compensation for psychological harm 😉 ) and I find it difficult to discern the difference between current libertarian political beliefs and The Anarchist Party. While some of them would argue for some minimal remnant of government to remain alive it always differs and always seems to correlate directly to that individual’s financial interests.

        In other words: only keep the government that benefits me and burn down everything else. Even real life Anarchist Party members sound more sane in person.

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  • Paul Cone December 3, 2013 at 4:04 pm

    I discovered last year, when attempting to ship personal items using Amtrak’s freight and shipping service, that there can be a night and day difference in how helpful and friendly Amtrak employees can be. On the sending end, in Boston and Providence, it was a nightmare, as if they couldn’t be bothered to do their jobs and try and be helpful. But when picking up the package on the Portland end, the guy went out of his way to be helpful.

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    • Sara December 3, 2013 at 4:47 pm

      I’ve also had exceptional service at the Portland end on shipping items cross country (and not so much in Minneapolis).

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  • Coldswim December 3, 2013 at 4:04 pm

    I’m very interested in this. My wife and I have started planning a 2 month vacation where we were planning on taking the train around the country with folding bikes this summer.

    If these are constant and expected issues then we’ll not do this trip and spend our time doing something else.

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    • C2C in2006 December 5, 2013 at 4:09 am

      Sure hope you do not change your plans. This incident is terrible and casts a terrible shadow on Amtrak in general and the obviousy way out of line employees this couple encountered.
      We must demand better and simplified as well as standardized rules for all luggage and sporting goods on trains.
      A huge part of this picture by a small segment of Amtrak service employees is that they can do whatever they can get away with and make there own rules. These wannabe thugs/aka Amtrak employees should be given a month off work with no pay (and benefits). Unfortunately they messed with the wrong patrons!
      Amtrak faces a daunting task trying for the most part gallantly to provide safe transportation while the federal and state politicians (owned by the road/auto/truck lobbies) try to kill off the tiny skeletonal system that exists.
      All Amtrak Superliner cars should have lower level full size bicycle/ski storage facilities. Trains operating in areas with high platforms and not using Superliner low entry door/floor equipment are difficult to load/unload due to floor height and narrow stair/vestibule configuration.
      Access problems to coaches, lack of bike storage in coaches and lack of checked baggage/dedicated baggage (read bike storage) combined with the fact that only larger stations with adequate staff and baggage handling equipment can be a bicycle on/off destination.
      Answer? Amtrak needs to do a 1 day study of Swiss Rail operations and the answer would be terribly obvious:
      1. Staffed stations with baggage handling equip
      2. Passenger cars designed and built in sufficient numbers to equip all trains with bicycle roll on/roll off capabilities.
      3.Frequent service (multiple per day) on all existing routes with bicycle roll on/off capability so every stop is bicycle accessible.

      I for one really like Amtrak long distance trains but the answer is in huge numbers of new additional trains running city to city. Buffalo to Cleveland and Pittsburgh to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh to Columbus, etc with numerous departures throughout the day with bicycle access.
      My experiences traveling Amtrak with sporting goods including bicycles has never been a problem and 99.9% of Amtrak folks will try their up most to make it work.
      Now about those super sized suitcases blocking the isles……..

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    • Richard Risemberg December 5, 2013 at 9:04 am

      My wife and I have taken folders on the Southwest Chief, the California Zephyr, and the Coast Starlight, with only the most minor resistance, and that rarely. Speaking firmly but kindly does wonders, as does being able to quote Amtrak’s policy. Stations we’ve used include Los Angeles, Raton NM, Denver, Emeryville, Richmond, Portland (the best!), and San Luis Obispo.

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  • dan December 3, 2013 at 4:11 pm

    The funny thing is, I had an amazingly good experience with Amtrak customer service last winter: it’s a long story, but they showed themselves to be far superior and more flexible than the airlines. Maybe people in Texas just really hate bicycles.

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  • Organic Brian December 3, 2013 at 4:15 pm

    I had similar frustrations (but not nearly as drastic) with Amtrak personnel, so I pestered Amtrak representatives to update their website so that the policy is clear for everybody (about whether folding bikes needed to be in a cover/case, etc.). I also asked that all the nitwit personnel will be educated, so that they don’t continue to see a bicycle and hear in their heads “bikes should be in bike boxes” and act on that when that policy is for non-folding bikes. After much effort, I did get them to clarify this on their website:

    “Folding bicycles under the dimensions of 34″ x 15″ x 48″/860 x 380 x 1120 mm will be allowed onboard all trains in lieu of a piece of baggage. They must be considered a true folding bicycle.”

    The rep claimed that she was going to have the policy clarified with Amtrak employees.

    So, there is no excuse for them to be making such a mistake.

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    • q`Tzal December 3, 2013 at 4:34 pm

      How hong ago was this and do you have any of the emails or contact info for the person you talked to?

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    • joe biel December 4, 2013 at 6:29 am

      Three cheers for OGB!

      And thanks for the support and kind words, everyone.

      I logged the complaint for this trip with customer service yesterday (an hour after this story posted, thanks BP!) and will follow up.

      Typically, in my past experience, it takes them a week or two to call us back but we’ve got a lot of fishing lines out about this and I think we can expect faster resolution than normal!

      I am trying to push for resolution that goes past us (since I was told on no less than three different trains that folding bikes must be boxed and then again this morning in the lounge) so it’s clear that training is needed across the board. Matt’s idea of Amtrak providing informational tags to put on folding bikes for their own staff to read is a good one.

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  • TOM December 3, 2013 at 4:19 pm

    If I were in Ms. Blue’s situation and frequently traveling Amtrak with bikes, first order of prep would be to PRINT OUT the regs from their website and get the clarification of those regs from a person of authority , print those too , and carry the papers with you when traveling.
    Heck, I even make a photocopy of my passport when traveling and keep it separate , in case of a loss. Gotta be proactive. 🙂

    When you are right, sometimes you have to prove it.

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    • Elly December 3, 2013 at 4:25 pm

      Hi Tom, good point. We’ve used our phones to access the policy in the past; though in this case there was no need as the station staff had the paper version at hand. That didn’t do us much good, as they were insistent that it didn’t say what it actually said.

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    • q`Tzal December 3, 2013 at 4:30 pm

      Problem with that is it seems that all rule interpretation and enforcement is up to the line employees and their whims.

      Imagine how long Walmart, Intel, McDonalds or the US Army would last if all critical customer relations decisions were made my the lowest ranking and least educated employees… no really… chew on the anarchy that would insue.
      Why should Amtrak get away with it?

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      • JAT in Seattle December 4, 2013 at 9:19 am

        But isn’t that exactly what happens? Maybe not at Intel, but certainly at all those other establishments.

        Remember Lynndie England?

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        • q`Tzal December 4, 2013 at 1:04 pm

          I don’t know where you’ve been working but unless you work as an engineer or similar job where you are paid to think most US companies would just as soon terminate your employment than worry you won’t follow orders explicitly without any questions.

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      • Editz December 4, 2013 at 9:38 am

        Uh, unions?

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        • q`Tzal December 4, 2013 at 1:09 pm

          Sorry, the “unions are to blame for everything” shtick isn’t gonna fly with me. There are plenty of unions capable of dealing with substandard employees; if Amtrak has a problem it is the culture of the workplace as a function of our expectations and inertia.
          Amtrak is old and we’ve all had very low expectations if them for decades. It’s a self fulfilling prophecy.

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  • Claude LaVallee December 3, 2013 at 4:22 pm

    I do hope Amtrak does a better job of training its employees re passengers taking their bicycles on-board.
    My boyfriend and I are hoping to take the train to go on a bike-camping vacation in the summer, and I really, really don’t want to deal with any kind of harassment like what you had to endure.

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  • Rebecca Albrecht December 3, 2013 at 4:26 pm

    I have taken my Dahon folder once on Amtrak from Boston to Washington DC and back and once from Boston to Albany and back and never had a problem, even though my Dahon can be a bit awkward to move when it is folded.

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  • Bjorn December 3, 2013 at 4:28 pm

    I’m curious if Elly does anything to secure the brompton’s. I would be worried about my bicycle being stolen if I left it just sitting in an open luggage area overnight.

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    • Elly December 4, 2013 at 5:51 am

      Theft hasn’t been a concern so far — the bikes are so weird looking that nobody really knows what they are, but EVERYONE, staff and passengers, knows that they’re ours. Hopefully times will change and folders will become more usual on trains, and that might make security more of an issue.

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  • BURR December 3, 2013 at 4:31 pm

    Bummer! Probably could be avoided in the future if you invest a bit more money and get some light weight soft bags for the bikes; it would help keep them from getting too scratched up in transit as well.

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    • Elly December 4, 2013 at 5:49 am

      I’m not concerned about the bikes getting scratched. I *am* concerned about our national train system causing arbitrary difficulties for people using it in conjunction with bikes, which is why I’m pursuing administrative solutions rather than buying a bag for my bike. Also, being in bags would make the bikes way less handy as luggage carts.

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  • Todd Boulanger December 3, 2013 at 4:46 pm

    I stick to Amtrak for NW regional travel and avoid Bolt Bus and driving in order to support their bike services and its expansion…though…

    Even the SUPER BIKE FRIENDLY Cascades service has some bike access barriers that could block a novice from using their bike service:
    – inconsistant luggage tag / liability service rules
    – bike ticketing purchase option sometimes is inaccessible on the iPhone Amtrak App when buying tickets
    – notice of the need for loading and unloading bikes at station (assuming you can lift your bike into a rail car when it has a bike ticket)
    – missing bike racks and lack of secure overnight bike parking at rail stations (in case you miss your day trip return, etc.)

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  • Tom (another one) December 3, 2013 at 4:49 pm

    As many have mentioned, it’s a training issue. I have used Amtraks services to move bikes several time in and out of multiple cities. The frontline employees always seem nice, but never quit sure of themselves. It almost always takes a second, or third, opinion before the bike actually will be accepted. It’s the only (professional) service I use where winking, debating and crossing my fingers is part of the standard procedure.

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  • joe kurmaskie December 3, 2013 at 4:53 pm

    In Canada, we were able to load and store our triple tandem, trailabike , trailer and Beth’s touring bike in the storage hold whole, not boxed. Not sure I would try that with Amtrak.

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  • Anne December 3, 2013 at 5:05 pm

    This is my bike/Amtrak story:

    In 1993, I shipped my bike in a box and 3 other boxes of personal possessions from Newark to Seattle via Amtrak’s Parcel service. Other than 2 different phone reps quoting me the wrong price (Washington the state, not D.C., dingbats!) and having to put my bike in a 2nd box at the station (which they conveniently forgot to charge me for), all 4 boxes arrived whole and in 3 days, as promised. At $45 IIRC, it was a great deal.

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  • Matt Youell December 3, 2013 at 5:21 pm

    Amtrak sleeper cars (at least out west) are hauling 80% or more retirees. They are optimized to minimize the complaints of old folks. When you go outside of that expectation things can get weird.

    Odds are you can’t get Amtrak to train their people sufficiently on this topic. What you may be able to do is get them to print up some kind of tag you can put on your bike which explains the rules. Something in print with a company logo goes a long way toward establishing normalcy.

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    • Elly December 4, 2013 at 5:54 am

      Matt, that’s a really great idea. I’ll suggest it. Thanks.

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  • Richard Risemberg December 3, 2013 at 5:35 pm

    Amtrak’s policy on their website is unambiguous:

    “Folding bicycles under the dimensions of 34″ x 15″ x 48″/860 x 380 x 1120 mm will be allowed onboard all trains in lieu of a piece of baggage.”


    We’ve taken Amtrak several times now with our Bromptons (bought specifically for that purpose), and while we’ve had minor problems with ignorant employees now and then, we’ve always gotten our bikes on board and in the luggage area.

    They do have a training issue. Like a lot of police departments that are currently “enforcing” nonexistent bike laws.

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) December 3, 2013 at 5:39 pm

      I had the same read at first, Richard, but the phrasing at the bottom of the page is different: “Folding bicycles may be brought aboard certain passenger cars as carry-on baggage.” The other sentence, “allowed onboard all trains in lieu of a piece of baggage,” seems consistent with the insistence of some of the people involved here that on some trains, folding bikes must be checked (as opposed to being carry-ons).

      I’m trying to resolve this issue with Amtrak’s spokeswoman.

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      • Elly December 5, 2013 at 8:14 am

        About the paragraph that says folding bikes are allowed in “certain” cars: The next paragraph in that section clarifies exactly where folding bikes as carry-ons can be stowed in a Superliner (the type of car we were in). The wording is terrible, but the intended meaning seems crystal clear. Do we have a lawyer in the house?

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  • Hazel December 3, 2013 at 5:38 pm

    I’ve had similar issues with Amtrak when traveling with my bike that has S&S couplers. I was even told that only bikes built as folding bikes can be carried on(which it is). It’s a real shame that they don’t make it easier to travel with a bike since there’s a huge market for it.

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  • RK December 3, 2013 at 5:46 pm

    New Zealand Rail lets you roll them up to the baggage car, leave the panniers on, if not too heavy. For Amtrak, have bagged my little Dahon and checked, feels more secure with the checked bags, but with more potential for damage. I admire the folder carry-on folks and am now more familiar with the ambiguous policy. A phone call to the Spokane Amtrak station said bikes needed to be checked and bags were OK for folders….
    Folder in a bag film….

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    • JHB December 5, 2013 at 9:11 am

      Trains throughout Eastern Europe that I rode occasionally this past June-October on my Eastern Europe bike tour (self supported), allowed me to roll the bike on with panniers attached (sometimes had to take off because of narrow door to load bike), no problem. The car attendants were gracious and extremely helpful in getting the bike on. And loading/unloading the bike wasn’t just at certain stations either. Many people unloaded their bikes at every station we stopped. The US is so far behind the rest of the world in transportation and telecommunications but always holds itself up as “we’re the best in the world”. Far from it…light years away from the rest of the world in so many areas.

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  • Carye December 3, 2013 at 6:21 pm

    This is my nightmare. I travel with a folding bike on the empire builder line Portland to Minneapolis and its always a fear that I will get in trouble for my bike Friday even though I know it’s ok. I have a giant carry on bag but with back rack on it doesn’t fold too small. It’s really hard and awkward to carry. But I’ve never had one Amtrak worker say a thing in fact last trip out of Portland an employee approached me while I was lined up to board and I thought oh no he’s gonna make me check it (which is expensive) but instead, he said, all that stuff looks hard to carry, may I get you a rolling cart.!!

    And in my one experience in a sleeper train we were treated like royalty. Even after accidentally cracking a window in our roommette (a fall trying to put down the top bed). The staff just moved us to another room and kept going out of they way for us. Maybe you meet one grump on the train but you got them all!

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  • Anthony December 3, 2013 at 6:23 pm

    “Unfortunately, we have found that Amtrak employees at all levels tend to be unaware of the company’s policy’s regarding bikes, folding and otherwise.”

    Yup. See my and some other people’s experiences in this past BikePortland article:

    It really shouldn’t be that hard to have a clear policy in place and ensure that all of your employees are trained in accordance with said policy.

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  • dwainedibbly December 3, 2013 at 6:23 pm

    What the traveling public really needs is some consistency in the rules and their enforcement. Why is it that bikes are allowed on certain lines but not others? Amtrak should work towards fixing the issues that are creating the variety in rules. That would be simpler for everyone.

    Would a folding bike in a bag pass the “it isn’t a bike” test? I know that one of the folding bike makers offers a bag with a Spanish name.

    Elly: thank you for fighting this fight and going public with it. If nothing else, the incident may cause some re-education within Amtrak and future travelers will have an easier time.

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  • Andres Salomon December 3, 2013 at 6:27 pm

    As a family biker, I really really wish Amtrak would support unusual bikes on their Cascades line. Xtracycles, Bakfiets, etc, are technically not allowed in their bike car. This is despite the fact that they typically have very stable kickstands and could simply sit there next to all the other bikes. If weight is a concern, a policy requiring passengers to lift the bike into the bike car would be perfectly acceptable. I’ve contacted Amtrak’s support in the past, but have only received form letters in response.

    Amtrak has a long way to go before I’d consider it “bike friendly”, even here in the bike-friendly NW. In the past, I’ve brought normal bikes on the line, and have been quoted different policies and prices for that. Not to mention, if you’re using Amtrak Guest Rewards points to reserve a bike spot, it’s impossible to do through their web page. Instead, you have to call them up to tell them you’d like to reserve a spot for your bike. If you’re paying with a credit card, you can reserve the spot through their web page.

    Arbitrary and weird.

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  • Nancy baumeister December 3, 2013 at 6:48 pm

    I traveled round trip Portland to New York with a Dahon folding bike- no problems putting it in the luggage area. Please Amtrak- recognize that people traveling with bikes can be your best customers.

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  • Beth December 3, 2013 at 6:52 pm

    Not so long ago, traveling musicians had similar difficulties traveling aboard airlines with their instruments. Those who played cello or a similarly-dimensioned instrument had to buy a second seat, while guitarists were not allowed to. If you couldn’t fit it in the overhead you had to check it. (Imagine the journey your suitcase takes along the conveyor belt to the plane’s underbelly and then think of your expensive instrument going through the same trip. Yeah, me neither.) And how your instrument fared depended on what airline you flew. United destroyed one of my guitars a few years back with no apology or compensation and lost my business forever. Southwest treats me like a queen and my Alvarez Jumbo like the crown jewels. Go figure.

    It took several years of negotiation between the airlines, the American Federation of Musicians (union) and Congress before a law was finally passed last year requiring all airlines to adhere to a universal set of standards for handling musical instruments as carry-on items, and to work with the musicians’ union to make the rules workable and fair. The first set of standards goes into effect in February and the rest of the code follows in July. As far as I know, things ARE getting a whole lot better for working musicians who must fly.

    What is needed here is for a critical mass of bicycle riders nationwide AND the major advocacy players to band together and threaten boycotts or whatever else is needed in order to make Amtrak and Congress sit down and work everything out. Right now, it still depends on where you travel and what rail lines you take. It doesn’t have to be that way, unless of course the government is trying to help Amtrak die under its own weight…

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    • Altaira December 3, 2013 at 7:29 pm

      Yes, it was the same with wheelchairs. When I flew in the 90’s, 50% of the time my chair would sustain damage, several times it was totaled. Imagine sending your legs off with strangers, and praying for their safe journey. After suing several airlines repeatedly, I now fly SouthWest nationally if humanly possible, and if not, pack my wheelchair deliver it to the ground crew personally. And I have spares. I am lucky to be able afford both lawyers and extra wheelchairs. And to travel, despite it’s risks.

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      • Nathanael December 3, 2013 at 10:38 pm

        At least Amtrak has a pretty good record on handling wheelchairs. I have heard nothing but horror stories about wheelchairs on airplanes.

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  • John Lascurettes December 3, 2013 at 6:55 pm

    While Amtrak clearly needs to clarify and disseminate its policy to all its employees, I wonder Elly wouldn’t have better success using one of Brompton’s bike bags I’ve seen in demo videos or a similar stowage bag that would make the bike itself more discrete. If it’s in the bag and they can’t see it’s a bike, they can’t bitch about it (as long as it’s under the luggage size).

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  • A, J, Zelada
    A, J, Zelada December 3, 2013 at 7:16 pm

    IN the five years of owning a brompton and going to Seattle each spring for continuing education, I have never had any difficulty taking the bike and putting it in the passenger compartment on the train to and from. All people at both ends have been courteous from check in to the boarding the train.

    In England only folding bikes are allowed on trains! Americans remain so provincial. z

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  • Tnash December 3, 2013 at 7:48 pm

    Why do people put up with Amtrak if the service sucks? The only way to kill Jason is to stop going to see Friday 13th movies.

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  • cuong t. December 3, 2013 at 8:46 pm

    Saw a folding bike on my Coast Starlight trip stowed in a folded position as carry-on luggage in the carry-on luggage storage area of the lower level of my superliner coach class car. Guess there’s not a problem on that route.

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  • Suburban December 3, 2013 at 9:17 pm

    Fe2O3 + 2Al ==> 2Fe + Al2O3 It’s not asphalt.
    What a tragic mistake to mess with EB.

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  • Ross Molyneux December 3, 2013 at 9:43 pm

    My idea is to make a bag/cover for the folding bike and print WHEEL CHAIR in large letters.

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    • Tom Moore December 4, 2013 at 2:09 am

      Or you could be more honest and say: “Personal Mobility Device”

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  • Ralph Macfrugal December 3, 2013 at 9:43 pm

    Have to love how EVERY SINGLE response Amtrak has given is one of those weaselly “we’re sorry, but refuse to admit wrongdoing, and in fact will subtly suggest you were actually at fault”.

    Make the bastards admit they were wrong, and create consequences for it happening again.

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    • Elly December 4, 2013 at 6:01 am

      To Amtrak’s credit, all of their responses to me after that first boilerplate tweet have been very apologetic, concerned, and eager to find solutions. I don’t think there are any bad intentions at play here, and Amtrak staff tends to be really great — just a systemic lack of clarity about a number of situations that involve bicycles.

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    • Hillsons December 6, 2013 at 2:16 pm

      Nothing says ‘we care for our customers’ like 140 characters about policy.

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  • GlowBoy December 3, 2013 at 9:46 pm

    Unfortunately there seems to have been too much victim-blaming AND ass-covering in Amtrak’s initial response to this, but let’s hope we can make progress.

    Tnash, the reasons people put with Amtrak are (1) because there are no other long distance rail services in this country, and (2) because Amtrak’s service doesn’t always suck.

    I’ve ridden the Empire Builder between Minneapolis twice in the past year and a half, both times with my child, and it was a wonderful experience with excellent service all around. That said, I didn’t bring a bike.

    My only experience with a bike on Amtrak was two years ago, when I took my Swift folding bike on the Cascades from Longview to Portland. Since I was only going two stops they had me stand in the entry area of the car with my bike leaning against the wall, not even in the luggage zone. No problems at all.

    That said, next time I bring my bike on Amtrak I will bring a printed copy of the bike policy. Not that it would have helped much in this case – there’s always a chance of running into an idiot who can’t understand words right in front of their face – but the long running consensus on’s Folding Bikes forum has been that it’s a good idea to have it with you.

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  • Ted Buehler December 3, 2013 at 11:27 pm

    Working for Amtrak isn’t easy. On trains like the Texas Eagle the car attendants are often on the job, 24 hrs a day, for 4 days at a time, then 4 days off, or something along those lines. They need to deal with testy customers, late trains, mechanical problems, and everything in between, all on interrupted sleep. For years and decades. They need to learn to balance keeping their life and their car in control, and letting things slide and relax. But, their car is their fiefdom. Every car attendant has their own set of “rules”, everyone has a few things that their good at, and a few things their not. And, just like most groups of employees, some of them are very good at what they do, and some aren’t.

    From 1990 to 2002 Amtrak was always on the chopping block. Especially in the early Bush II years (as I recall) every year the employees would all be sent pink slips, only to be recalled at the last minute as the US Senate “saved” Amtrak time and time again.

    This made it hard to keep good employees. Lots of the ones who could get better jobs did. They might have loved their jobs, but 4 days on, 4 days off is always hard, and if you have kids to feed and a mortgage to pay, you’ll only put up with the threat of termination so many times before you find more stable work.

    Job security at Amtrak has improved considerably since the terrorist attacks of 2001 made flying a bear, and the gas price jumps of the mid 2000s made flying and driving much more expensive.

    But still, there are always some Amtrak employees that are either naturally grouchy, or became grouchy in the 1990 – 2002 era and have never recovered. And Amtrak is not good at culling bad employees.

    I’ve traveled on Amtrak a lot over the years. I’ve consistently have about 80% good experiences with employees, and 5% terrible experiences.

    Sounds like Elly and Joe got one of the 5%.

    Glad you and your bikes all managed to stay on the train.

    And, as TOM pointed out above, the take home message for us all here is to print out a copy of a company’s bicycle policy, highlight the relevant passages, and keep it on your person. While its a pain to have to do this to ensure safe and comfortable bicycle passage, it sure beats the alternative. Whether you’re flying, Amtraking, Greyhounding, have the policy in writing, ready to quietly hand over to any employees who may be having a bad day or have poorly developed problem solving skills.

    Ted Buehler

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    • Elly December 4, 2013 at 6:06 am

      Good points, Ted. Our car attendant wasn’t a bad apple, at all. She was short of sleep, stressed about holiday traffic, and inadequately briefed about the bike policy. I really wish she’d handled our situation differently at the start, but she wasn’t unreasonable after that. The Texas Eagle is definitely not a system priority, and it shows… the cars are old and falling apart, the schedule is wonky, and the rails on part of the route are really rough.

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  • Sara December 4, 2013 at 1:36 am

    I have a cover for my folding bike, it folds into a seatpost bag so I can carry it at all times. I bought it to disguise my bike as an item of luggage if I need to take it on the bus, as I know bus drivers can be difficult.
    Never had a problem with it on the train here in the UK.

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  • Kittens December 4, 2013 at 2:02 am

    In my next life I want to come back as a public sector employee so I can be incompetent and belligerent. Yes I know most are neither.

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    • john December 4, 2013 at 11:32 pm

      yeah, this kind of thing could never happen with a commercial airline or a cable company, haha!

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  • Tom Moore December 4, 2013 at 2:07 am

    My Brompton fits folded nicely inside this $3.99 plastic bag from Ikea. I’ve checked it this way with a little bubble wrap on flights and it’s survived the otherwise hostile glare of Amtrak staff more than once:

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  • Tom Kepler December 4, 2013 at 4:31 am

    I’m planning on riding the Zephyr from Ottumwa, Iowa, to Oroville, California. This includes the Amtrak shuttle bus from Sacramento to Oroville. The online Amtrak policies are so clear that I bought a Montague Navigator folding bike and carry bag to take along (along with a Burley Travoy trailer). Both fold and fit within the train’s size limits. I now plan to do two things prior to travel: 1) immediately begin a dialogue with Customer Service to have emails of “It’s OK to have your folding bike and trailer in carry bags” and 2) to photocopy, highlight, and carry with me Amtrak folding bike policies when traveling.

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  • Mike Quigley December 4, 2013 at 6:21 am

    This apparently isn’t a problem on the Cascade. I regularly take my folder from Eugene to Portland, stashing it in the baggage slots at the end of the car. Never a comment from Amtrak employees.

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  • two tired bike December 4, 2013 at 6:28 am

    I’ve never had a problem with my bike on a train. In fact, I love it. I’ve always had lots of help with my bike from the workers. Though I do always plan my trips based on which places are luggage stops and I’ve always bought a bike box from Amtrak. It’s worrying to hear these stories, they sound more like my Greyhound bike experiences which have all been stressful and difficult.

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  • Bobster December 4, 2013 at 7:09 am

    This discussion makes me want to go out and purchase a folding bicycle and hit the rails, despite the bad service that Elly and her partner received. Keep up the cause, Elly! Let e know if there is anything I can do to help you.

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  • Tony December 4, 2013 at 7:18 am

    I honestly do NOT understand people’s destain for bikes. They had them on the road, get mad when they are legally locked up, and now no room on the train??

    I honestly think part is jealousy that they can’t find time or have the ability to ride. It’s sad…..

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  • Drew December 4, 2013 at 7:40 am

    I have taken Amtrak several times in Oregon and California with my folding bike on-board (no bag), all without issue. But I recently made a large handlebar bag that unfurls to double as a bag I can drop the folded bike into. I can also put the tent and other items in the bag, which reduces what I need to carry to the upper part of the train.

    Some transit employees just hate bikes. Vague policy doesn’t help. It’s a drag that I have to conceal the nature of my carry-on to avoid a negative experience, but it always works.

    Other transit (buses and planes) requires a bag. If you get off Amtrak and have a bike bag you can get on a Greyhound bus like any other passenger. It just gives you more options.

    Bikes and trains go well together, and Amtrak should do everything they can to encourage passengers to bring their bikes! Thanks Elly for shining a spotlight on this.

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  • Paul Johnson December 4, 2013 at 7:40 am

    Wondering if the story is apocryphal, I’ve never experienced that level of asshattery from Amtrak, and it’s so far out of line of normal for the carrier that it seems made up.

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) December 4, 2013 at 8:12 am

      Obviously we weren’t there, Paul, but I’ve known Elly and Joe for years and if I had any doubt about the truth of this account from their perspective (aside from the always-difficult-to-assess judgments about when someone is and isn’t “yelling”) we wouldn’t have given this nearly the space that we did.

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      • Brock Dittus December 17, 2013 at 11:25 am

        There’s also a marked difference between the older generation of employees, who have been putting up with the aforementioned threats of losing their job and dealing with substandard work environments for years, and the younger set who are beginning their careers and haven’t had as much time to become jaded. In several years of using the Amtrak system extensively I’ve encountered both, and can see all sides of their positions on the seniority chart! I recommend a thick skin and polite response to the tired ones (they’ve earned it, even if they behave crustily), and a warm smile and words of thanks to the new set to keep them rolling.

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    • Jane December 4, 2013 at 8:49 am

      In the fifteen years I’ve been riding Amtrak regularly in the pnw I can definitely attest to this level of asshattery occurring occasionally. They’ve gotten better – I’ll give them that – but it’s still not at all far fetched to encounter Amtrak employees being serious douche nozzles from time to time.

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    • Jym Dyer December 4, 2013 at 7:17 pm

      @Paul Johnson – Ellie Blue and Joe Biel are real people. You must be thinking of those hoax tweets from Elan Gale, who clearly doesn’t actually exist.

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      • Elly December 5, 2013 at 9:56 am

        I couldn’t make this stuff up if I wanted to.

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  • TOM December 4, 2013 at 7:59 am

    as an aside: When we travel to Asia , I take along my folding walking/hiking staff (bum knee , the reason why I started biking) . It’s gone everywhere with only infrequent problems.

    It has a hidden ice point inside the rubber foot , SEATAC didn’t like that. So for the next time, I ground it down to a rounded point, no more problems with that.
    Leaving Saigon for Taipei, the Communist guard would not let me take it on board the flight. I asked “why” ?? He kept answering SECURITY SECURITY. (as if I was going to take over the plane with it) … they made me check it with a stew who stashed in the broom closet. I was pissed. Demanded to see the guards ID and told him if it gets lost, I would come back and hunt him down (??) …they put a special tag on it and the stew found me as we deplaned in Taiwan and made sure I got it back.
    Mitigate potential issues, ie: Be like the Boy Scouts :
    BE PREPARED (and don’t follow my 2nd example) 🙁

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  • calwatch December 4, 2013 at 8:29 am

    It looks like the folding bike policy has been the same for the last two years. Chapter 4 of the Service Standards Manual, which is issued to Amtrak employees annually (or thereabouts) and which they are required to sign for. In other words, this is not new, and one can point to this chapter and verse, since this “Blue Book” is supposed to be carried at all times when on duty by a conductor. (page 4-5)
    “Folding bicycles may be brought aboard passenger
    cars as carry-on baggage. Only true folding bicycles
    (bicycles specifically designed to fold up into a compact
    assembly) are acceptable and must be able to fold
    into a size no greater than 34″ x 15″ x 48″.
    Generally, folding bicycles have small wheels and
    frame latches allowing the frame to be collapsed.
    Regular bicycles of any size, with or without wheels,
    are not considered folding bicycles, and may not be
    stored aboard the train as a carry-on folding bicycles.
    Folding bicycles must be folded before boarding the
    train and will not count against the two-baggage
    carry-on limit. Folding bicycles can only be stored in
    luggage storage areas at the end of the car (or, in
    Superliners, on the lower level). Folding bicycles
    cannot be in stored in overhead luggage racks,
    vestibules or in reserved (ticketed) bicycle racks.”

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    • Todd Boulanger December 4, 2013 at 6:23 pm

      Thanks a lot! This makes for very interesting reading…I learned that Segways can be checked as luggage for no additional fee. (Why then are bikes charged…especially if used as a mobility device?)

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      • 9watts December 4, 2013 at 6:32 pm

        Here’s Paul Kingsnorth’s answer to a question similar to yours about why Segways would be accepted as a matter of course but not bikes.

        “…To ask that question in those terms is to misunderstand what is going on. Brushcutters are not used instead of scythes because they are better, they are used because their use is conditioned by our attitudes to technology. Performance is not really the point, and neither is efficiency. Religion is the point; the religion of complexity. The myth of progress manifested in tool form. Plastic is better than wood. Moving parts are better than fixed parts. Noisy things are better than quiet things. Complicated things are better than simple things. New things are better than old things. We all believe this, whether we like it or not. It’s how we were brought up.”

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        • TOM December 4, 2013 at 6:41 pm

          thanx for that quote. I dabble in vintage bikes,audio ..etc, but that explains a lot.

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        • Beth December 7, 2013 at 6:58 pm

          Didn’t Rush make an album that coved this theme back in the day? (Yeah, totally dating myself with that remark)

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          • Tacoma December 8, 2013 at 12:07 pm

            Dated? Maybe but excellent connection. so you know more about music than just corps?

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  • Jym Dyer December 4, 2013 at 8:31 am

    • The clearly inapplicable “if they are unfamiliar with the bike policy on a particular route” clause is troubling, coming as it does from an official spokesperson whose job is to communicate. This incident is about employees, not customers, who don’t understand and/or dont care about their own policies, and making capricious abuses of power.

    I have a Bike Friday, which fits inside a suitcase or nylon sleeve. I have learned not to mention what’s inside, because suddenly functionaries want to slap extra fees on it! Amtrak had a satisfaction guarantee, announced with much fanfare in the year 2000, so for a bit I would pay the fee, write a letter of complaint, then have my fee refunded along with an addition $25 check. Employees would also get a bonus if there were no complaints. What did Amtrak learn from this? They learned to discontinue the guarantee in 2002.

    Incidentally, many states have laws that require common carriers such as trains to accept one bicycle per passenger. These were victories won by the League of American Wheelmen (now the League of American Bicyclists) at the turn of the previous century. These laws were ignored for much of that century, but still apply. (I don’t know whether they apply in Texas.)

    The problem goes beyond Amtrak, though. Over the years I’ve dealt with all sorts of functionaries who don’t know their own bike and folding bike policies. Many will make up rules on the spot out of sheer velophobia. It makes no sense to give transportation employees undue discretion to prevent transportation.

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    • Robert Ping December 4, 2013 at 9:13 am

      I take commuter rail a lot while traveling around the country (doing bicycle advocacy, by the way), and I have never had trouble with my Bike Friday on the east or west coasts. Amtrak in Middle America, on the other hand, treats bikes more like airlines do – not well.

      By the way, I don’t tell airlines anymore that my Bike Friday Tikit in its stock Samsonite case is actually a bike; the first time I did I spent 20 minutes arguing with the ticket counter supervisor and missed my plane!

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  • AndyC of Linnton December 4, 2013 at 9:11 am

    Amtrak not knowing their own policies, having little communication between different sectors, occasionally becoming belligerent, and offering little way in an initial apology!?
    Yep, that sounds like Amtrak to me.
    In their defense, most airlines have this level of ineptitude as well.
    I’ve kind of just given up on a nice/convenient/on-time travel in general, no matter which mode I take.

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  • TOM December 4, 2013 at 9:18 am

    some options:

    Brompton folding bike – Travel cases

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  • Isaac Porras December 4, 2013 at 9:33 am

    If you put it in a small nylon bag it should be fine. The shiny metal gears and spokes seem to terrify Amtrak employees.

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  • Dwayne Dibbly December 4, 2013 at 10:51 am

    This is an instance where our partners in industry could help. Brompton, Bike Friday, etc might be able to get Amtrak’s attention (surely they have PR & media relations people). Plus, it’s in their interest to protect and expand the use of their products as well as to defend their customers!

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  • Ted Buehler December 4, 2013 at 10:56 am

    Two thumbs up for those who recommend a bag for your bike.

    I’ve brought my foldie to California and back a couple times on the Coast Starlight, I always have it in a heavy duty garbage bag. Not to hide the fact that its a bicycle, but to keep
    * bike grease
    * road grime, &
    * dirt
    off of other peoples’ luggage.

    Even if you don’t have a fancy case or suitcase, get a pack Husky Contractor Clean-up Bags” from the hardware store and you’ll be set.

    Clean up bags, or “Rubble bags” also double as heavy duty ponchos, reusable bike move box rain covers, etc.

    Ted Buehler

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  • William December 4, 2013 at 11:12 am

    I use Amtrak with a Bicycle alot. Most Amtrak employees are great, but there is a small group who must be secretly working to destroy the system for some unseen power!

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  • ac December 4, 2013 at 4:25 pm

    Paul in the ‘couve
    “This is not the bike you are looking for”
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  • JCV December 4, 2013 at 7:31 pm

    Maybe people in Texas just really hate bicycles.
    Recommended 6

    Did you really just say that????

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    • Elly December 5, 2013 at 9:46 am

      We had just spent several days in Dallas and Fort Worth riding around on our Bromptons, experiencing great hospitality from the enthusiastic and thriving bike communities there, and getting to see the absolutely amazing things these cities are doing for bikes. Fort Worth has bustling bike share system and its downtown streets are all clearly marked as part of a bike network. Dallas recently removed a car lane in order to create a two-way protected bike lane on a highway bridge that’s an essential link between downtown and the bikey Oak Cliff neighborhood. That’s bold stuff that we don’t do at home. Portland could do well to look to Texas for bike inspiration.

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      • Alan 1.0 December 5, 2013 at 11:11 am

        Portland could do well to look to Texas for bike inspiration.

        That one’s gonna leave a mark!

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  • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) December 5, 2013 at 9:08 am

    Just want to make sure folks saw the update with comment from Amtrak official. We posted it in the story but here it is for your reading convenience:

    Update 12/3 at 5:00 pm: Vernae Graham, Amtrak’s West Coast press spokeswoman, writes to reiterate that Amtrak “apologizes for any inconvenience.” She adds: “Passengers should inquire when making their reservations, if they are unfamiliar with the bike policy on a particular route. … We are continuously working with our employees to update them on new, existing or modified policy changes.” I’ve asked Graham if this means that Amtrak has different bike policies for different routes, and if so how passengers can find this information.

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  • Joe Partridge December 5, 2013 at 9:21 am

    This is exactly why I hesitate to take Amtrak; unclear policies and inconsistent enforcement. I am willing to put up with it as a recreational traveler, but I just can’t rely on them if I am traveling for business. Which is really a shame since a good portion of my business is alternative transportation consulting!

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  • Ayleen December 5, 2013 at 9:35 am

    I’ve traveled with my folding bike in a bag and when asked what it is I’ve said “exercise equipment”. No further questions were asked.

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  • Organic Brian December 5, 2013 at 10:55 am

    Yesterday I called Amtrak customer support to try to follow up on the case I had started back in March. The conversation with rep “Kelvin” reaffirmed some things about Amtrak company culture:

    – It was clear that no action would result from my call (such as improvements to their training), other than my comment being passed on.

    – He could not give me the name of the helpful rep I talked with in the spring (somehow it isn’t in my notes) regarding the case # that I gave, who had seemed to be goal-oriented and eventually had the website content changed to be more clear in regard to folding bikes, etc.

    – He repeated quite a lot of times his insistence that “it takes time” to train “over 30,000 employees” and that this was an “ongoing process.” He suggested that I wanted the situation changed “right here, right now” because I think it’s unacceptable that AFTER OVER HALF A YEAR they still haven’t spread the word of the policy to all of their reps.

    It was eventually very clear that this person’s role in the company was not to solve customer problems, but to just fend off angry customers/apologize for Amtrak incompetence. There was no interest at all in fixing the situation, as far as he was concerned it was just a matter of “more time” to let the new policy sift through the ranks (by osmosis? magically? what is being done about this? impossible for me to find out).

    Suggestion: everybody who is interested in this issue should contact Amtrak and demand that they fix their issue with employees who don’t know the policy/interpret it however they like. Written letters might have more impact than a phone call to customer service (and you’ll likely be on hold for a long time using phone).

    Amtrak Inspector General:
    10 G St. NE, Suite 3W-300, Washington, DC 20002

    Other contacts:
    (the “Send Us Your Commends” and “Employee Praise Line” under “Send E-mail” link)

    If you are a member of “the media”:

    Customer Service (probably useless):

    I have at times travelled with the Brompton in a bag. It seemed too much a nuisance: time to put the bag on, take it off, it took up space in my luggage I wanted to use for other things, and I had to take a dirty bag with me everywhere.

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    • Dwayne Dibbly December 5, 2013 at 11:11 am

      Federal agencies HATE it when their Inspector General gets involved. Great idea!

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  • Organic Brian December 5, 2013 at 11:08 am

    How fun! The Amtrak Board of Directors has a mail address:

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  • Al from PA December 5, 2013 at 6:36 pm

    A scary situation because the folded Brompton is so stealable. In Britain the common practice is *never* to leave one outside, out of one’s sight, no matter how well locked. Most people just bring them inside–restaurants, schools, workplaces, you name it. I would certainly be loathe to let someone I didn’t know (who’s been yelling at me) drag mine off to stow it somewhere, supposedly in a luggage area, most likely unlocked. A great way not to get a night’s rest.

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  • wsbob December 6, 2013 at 2:26 pm

    Blue…what a nutty situation to have happen around you, but it seems you and your partner handled it with aplomb.

    I feel kind of bad for the personnel on your train too, that may have unwittingly brought on the situation because management hadn’t sufficiently familiarized them with Amtrak’s policy about folding bikes. That kind of thing has got to be a bit embarrassing to anyone having pride in their work.

    I don’t have one, but from what I see of people riding them, folding bikes look great. Encouraging their use, and making it easier to do by providing great storage on buses, trains and planes, is a smart thing to do. Sometimes improvement comes slowly, but surely.

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  • Tom Kepler December 9, 2013 at 7:58 am

    I wrote to Amtrak last week, specifying the route I was going to take and asking whether a folding bike fit the specific departure and arrival stops and also the Amtrak bus service. I asked if my planned route was in line with their policies. I received back an email from rep John simply saying I could check Amtrak’s online bike policy (a link provided) or call the 800 USA RAIL number. I found the response disappointing. I wanted a “yes” or “no,” and all I going was a pass-the-decision-on response. I suppose I’ll call the number, but I was hoping for an email OK that I could print and take with me when I travel with my Montague folding bike in its bag.

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  • Paula Joy February 13, 2014 at 10:16 pm

    Hoping that Amtrak will get a more consistent, accommodating bike policy for all bikes accompanying passengers, of course. One thing that really is inexcusable, on Amtrak’s part, is that they YELLED at passengers. That is the epitome of tacky customer service and inexcusable.

    That said, I have always loved traveling on Amtrak. I hope the trains never go away. Making them accessible and viable to more travelers (including bike tourists) is one way to ensure their popularity and support by the public.

    I travel with a Bike Friday — either fully assembled when hooks are an option on some of the trains, or in its suitcase, checked.

    One really frustrating situation is going from California (no hooks avi, so bike must be in suitcase — or folded, to supposedly be allowed onboard — to the NW trains, which do allow bikes to hang from hooks in the baggage car. Consistency through the route would make bike touring from California into the NW and beyond much easier.

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