Surfliner Cancels Bike Fees, Requires Metrolink Commuters to Buy Amtrak Tickets to Ride with Their Bikes

For those that missed it in Today’s Headlines or the follow-up on Curbed, we bring some good news. Amtrak California modified its plans to require a $5 fee for bicycles to ride on the Pacific Surfliner trains, a fee that would have basically ended bike to train commuting for the handful of people who choose that particular commute. However, the agency is still requiring a reservation to insure that there is sufficient space on their trains.

Bike on a Surfliner rack. Image: ##http://www.greensocal.net/2010/10/amtrak-ignores-bikers.html##Green Socal.net##

They are proceeding with the new policy of requiring a reservation before any bicycles can be brought on board a Surfliner rail car, either on weekends or during a commute. To make a reservation, visit a ticket window or call 1-800-USA-Rail and attempt to navigate their system. I’ve been assured one can make multiple reservations at one time, again a nod to commuters, but I don’t know anyone who has tried to do so.

And while the cancellation of the fee is good news, with all good news there is also some bad news with Amtrak. The Surfliner is now requiring that anyone with a Metrolink Monthly pass purchase an Amtrak ticket before being allowed to get a bike reservation. Amtrak and Metrolink have a deal where Metrolink monthly pass holders can ride on Surfliner trains at no cost provided that they are riding between stations covered by the monthly pass.  Apparently, that deal doesn’t apply to bicycles.

Amtrak spokespeople hope that the reservation system’s inconveniences will be made up for by the piece of mind of knowing whether there will be space on the train for a bicycle. As people get familiar with the system, please be sure to let us know if this hope is fulfilled in the comments section. This of course assumes you are not a Metrolink monthly pass holder who will be asked to pay twice for a ride and make a special reservation.

On Amtrak and other rail forums, Streetsblog has been criticized for its incendiary headline when announcing the initial change in Surfliner policy from a pro-bicycle “bring your bikes on board” to a cumbersome, and at that time expensive, reservation system. While we stand by the tone and reporting in that story, the forums provided some excellent background information that explain why Amtrak decided on this particular change.

Steve Grande, with Train Web, explains.

When ALL of the Amtrak Pacific Surfliners used the new Surfliner Train Sets, there were bicycle racks at the bottom level of every car. These were not in a position where they were taking up the room of any seats. One could just walk right on, hang their bike onto the rack, and go take a seat. These cars were designed to make bringing a bicycle along easy. Each car had this on the bottom level except for maybe the Cafe Car, so there were 3 or 4 cars on ever train that could each take 3 bicycles…

The problem came up when they expanded the Pacific Surfliner frequency and the length of trains faster than adding new equipment. They started bringing back the old single level equipment. Thus one never knows when waiting for a train if a train with double level Surfliner equipment is going to pull in or if an old trainset with single level equipment is going to pull in. If it is the double level equipment, there is no problem. A person just rolls his bicycle onboard and hangs it up.

But if the single level pulls in, that is a whole other story! Those are not built to carry bicycles at all. In the old days they would require you to box up your bicycle and take it on board as checked baggage.

But running the old single level equipment mixed with the new double level equipment has a lot more problems than just carrying bicycles.

The double level equipment loads tremendously faster than the single level equipment. Every car has two double doors on the double level equipment which means that it can load and unload passengers very fast. The single level equipment requires a Conductor at every door, thus limits the number of doors that can open. Passengers have to locate and scurry to the nearest open door, and then board single file up a set of stairs. The unloading and loading of single level equipment is much slower.

Since schedules have to be designed to accommodate the slowest equipment on the line, having the single level equipment mixed into the schedule totally defeats the advantage of the fast loading double level equipment.

A tip of the hat to Dana Gabbard and Ken Ruben for all their help in researching this story.

  • Noel Braymer

    Duh how about running more Metrolink/coaster trains to get rid of the low level equipment which is slowing down the Surfliners and run faster trains on time and take care of bikes.

  • Erik Griswold

    There is only one set of “Low-Level” equipment (Amfleet cars with a Horizon Cafe) running on the Surfliner schedule. It used to be restricted to the morning trip out of LAUS to San Luis Obispo which then turned and got back to LAUS late in the evening but now this set, or “consist” as the railroad industry prefers to call it, circulates throughout the system. There’s no reason Caltrans and Amtrak couldn’t create a schedule that shows where that set is and alert cyclists to avoid it.

  • Rob Tables

    The information that Steve Grande provided seems to be a bit dated. The single-level Amfleet train does not seem to be much of a problem, as the baggage car is set up with bike racks inside. The baggage car does require a conductor to load and unload the bikes (the door is probably five feet off the ground), but there has to be someone there to deal with regular bags and packages anyway. I’m not sure how many racks there are in there, but I’ve seen six bikes load up at Union Station, with two or three more already racked. Really, you could cram 20 bikes in there since there seems to be very little luggage, but that might not be very good for paint jobs or staff.

    The double-level Surfliner trains have actually become more problematic. Surfliners are no longer equipped as shown in the Green Socal picture. They used to run six cars, three of which would provide the hang-up bike racks (nine total – no racks in the cab/baggage, cafe or business-class cars). A few years ago, they started replacing one of the cars with a Superliner car that had no bike racks, reducing bike capacity down to six. A few months ago, they removed the remaining hang racks to replace them with luggage racks. They removed some lower-level seating in the cab/baggage car to put in space for seven bikes (three on one side, four on the other). These new racks are sort of like what Metrolink uses in their bike cars – wheels on the ground, velcro straps and a seat belt. It can end up as sort of a bike pile that is first-in, last-out. Wheeling bikes in and out with the new configuration also requires moving between rows of seats and past the restroom – a bit of a pain.

  • Matt Ruscigno RD MPH

    One time I hopped on a late evening Amtrak that was the old style train and the conductor was borderline hostile re my bike and one belonging to another passenger.

    Why does it take them so long to adjust to change?

  • Tom Anderson

    Actually they are running 2 sets of “Low-Level” equipment now. They are both in regular rotation.

  • Ben

    Metrolink’s customers are not being asked to pay twice. Those who desire transportation services from Amtrak may purchase an Amtrak monthly pass instead.

  • Andrew

    Amtrak doesn’t seem to allow folding bike anymore either!!! I am a Metrolink commuter and today when I brought my folding bike to the train the conductor said all bike including folding bike requires reservation!!! That sucks.

  • Niall Huffman

    Say what? Call customer service and clarify that. From what I’ve heard, folding bikes are always allowed and are treated like any ordinary piece of carry-on luggage. The conductor may have been applying the new policy incorrectly.

  • Andrew

    Today I called amtrak and the first person who didn’t even know reservation is free said the same thing regarding folding bike, then I asked him further about what the amtrak website say about folding bike is allowed as carry on luggage on all trains, then he transferred me to a customer relation agent. When I ask the second agent, the second agent checked and said the rules about folding bike and she confirmed with me that folding bike is still good as carry on luggage as long as it doesn’t exceed the dimension. I don’t understand why those amtrak people are so incompetent. They don’t even know their own rules. The lady also told me to show my bike’s dimension along with amtrak’s policy regarding folding bike to prove it when a conductor thinks otherwise. I hope they don’t change their folding bike policy in the future just because it is too complicated for them…

  • Steve Johnson

    The new policy is a major hassle for Amtrak 10-ride users. You not only have to make a reservation for your bike, but you have to PHYSICALLY obtain the reservation. If you live near an unmanned station (e.g. Ventura), you have to somehow get to a manned station to pick up the reservation for the bike.

  • 700c

    I just don’t really know why Amtrak is so hostile to bicyclist. I paid the same fare as other passenger so why can’t I get the same kind of service. I don’t have x2 75″ bag or a 50lb golf sack, or a 72″ surfboard, just a 60″ bike weighting 30lb. So why I can’t get on board when the other can.

    Also, It not that hard to add more bikes space.

    1. Just open the door and use the lower floor of the SuperLiner for bikes. That car has like 6 restrooms and a buffet hall on the lower floor which are never use. Me and my kids go down there to play hide and seek all time.

    2. Convert the upstairs restrooms to luggage space. There are just too many restrooms. (But not enough clean one).

    3. These “where can I stuff this” issues are trivial, I see airline stewardess solve these issues in every flight and they become heroes with their ward. Have the conductors fire up their neurons and earn the respect of their customers.

    I hope that when OCTA or SD-MTS take control of the SurfLiner they will rotate those employees who don’t believe in excellence and world class performance out to the pasture.

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