Cumberland Times-News

Local News

October 19, 2013

Amtrak, cyclists test roll-on service

If feasible, service could be offered on daily train through city

CUMBERLAND — Amtrak held a bicycle roll-on trial Tuesday aboard the Capitol Limited, which stops daily in Cumberland during the train’s route between Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.

Officials at Amtrak want to see if offering the service for cyclists who use the Capitol Limited would be feasible.

“This could be a boon for our local economy,” said Larry Brock, a local businessman and cyclist who rode to Harpers Ferry, W.Va., during the roll-on trial.

Cumberland’s location at the center point of the Great Allegheny Passage and the C&O Canal Towpath trail makes it a popular destination for cyclists.

“I’m very excited about the possibilities,” said Brock.

Nicole Wagoner, a Cumberland city councilwoman and president of Mountain Maryland Trails, also rode aboard the Capitol Limited during the trial.

“It was seamless. It was like they were doing it for years,” said Wagoner.

Roll-on bicycle service is not new for Amtrak.

“We have had roll-on bike service on our trains in other parts of the country,” said Derrick James, director of government affairs for Amtrak, who rode on the Capitol Limited during the trial.

James said the service is typically provided by converting the bottom tier of a bi-level coach to space for hanging bicycles.

On routes that do not provide roll-on service, cyclists must disassemble portions on their bikes and secure them in a container.

“The response we’ve gotten from Amtrak has been positive,” said Brock.

Brock, who guides bicycling tours in the area for Adventure Cycling, said the Great Allegheny Passage and the C&O Canal towpath draw people from all over the world.

“These people spend money here. The last tour I did, we had 70 people from all over,” said Brock.

Brock said he had people from Tanzania, Luxembourg, United Kingdom, California and Alaska.

Fees for using an Amtrak roll-on service train car vary. According to the Amtrak websites, fees go from no additional cost on some routes to adding from $5 to $15 to a normal ticket price on other routes.

The Capitol Limited route includes stops in Pittsburgh, Connellsville, Pa., Cumberland, Martinsburg and Harper’s Ferry, W.Va., Rockville and Union Station in Washington, D.C.

“I think it went well,” James said of the trial.

“We expect to move forward with the idea but the outcome is not a foregone conclusion,” said James.

James explained that enough cars must be converted, at a cost to Amtrak, to accommodate bicycles. Since cars are typically assigned and reassigned based on need, they must have enough cars available to commit to the roll-on service.

Brock said he hoped they could have three cars carrying six to eight bicycles on each trip.

“Our capital funds come from the federal government. So all projects such as station upgrades and bridge repairs compete for funding as well,” said James.

However, James said they are moving forward by collecting data to study the possibility. Amtrak conducted a survey during Tuesday’s roll-on trial, which will be reviewed.

James said that Amtrak has one roll-on bike fitted car on most Capitol Limited excursions now.

Brock and Wagoner are both hoping that the roll-on bike service will grow.

“Any way we can provide another means to get people onto our trail is great,” said Wagoner.

“It’s another piece of the pie for our area,” said Brock.

Greg Larry can be contacted at glarry@times-news.com.

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