Press-Republican

August 18, 2013

Amtrak tests Bike on Board

LOHR McKINSTRY
Press-Republican

PORT HENRY — Four travelers with bicycles stood at the Port Henry Amtrak Station waiting for an experimental train run called Bring Your Bike on Board.

A train whistle sounded from south of the station, and smiles grew on everyone’s faces.

Watching as the northbound passenger train slid slowly into the station, Port Henry resident Jeff Kelly said he’s been hoping Amtrak would start allowing bikes on the train that runs between New York City and Montreal.

“It’s an experiment. Amtrak will use this to see how much demand there is.”

BICYCLE CAR

Kelly and his wife, Linda Smyth, had waited patiently for the train — which was running late — to pull into the Port Henry Station.

“I would use it for fun rather than practical,” he said. “We’re going one stop, to Westport, where we’ll get some ice cream and pedal back to Port Henry.”

The Bring Your Bike on Board test run sponsored by Amtrak added a bicycle car to the train and allowed people to take their bikes one stop for free.

“There’s a certain drill we have to go through to get our bikes on,” Thomas Trow of Port Henry said while waiting for the train with his wife, Bernadette. 

FOURTH TEST

Getting off at Port Henry was Bruce Becker, president of the Empire State Passengers Association, whose group was participating in the experiment.

“We obviously are excited (about) the demonstration,” he said. “We hope it will encourage more passengers to use the train and bring their bikes.”

He said the purpose of the experiment is to gauge the level of interest and decide if a bicycle car should be permanently added to trains in the region.

“Amtrak is surveying bikers about what they like and don’t like about the demonstration.”

He said the Adirondack test was the fourth conducted by Amtrak recently. Others included the Albany to Boston train and the Ethan Allen Express in Vermont.

“Amtrak will take all the responses and decide what to do,” Becker said.

LONGTIME GOAL

No results for the test were yet available upon recent contact with Amtrak representatives — they were still analyzing the data.

“This was an amazing opportunity to demonstrate strong demand among bicyclists in New York state for providing regular unboxed bicycle-carriage service on Amtrak trains,” said Josh Wilson, executive director of the New York State Bicycling Coalition in a news release. 

“Getting unboxed bicycle-carriage facilities onto trains in New York has been a longtime advocacy goal of the New York Bicycling Coalition, and many of our partners in the bicycling community. 

“This was a special and historic opportunity to personally participate in this test run, a demonstration project that may result in the change we have been seeking.”

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) is also working to get bicycles on Amtrak trains.

He joined State Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury) in nudging Amtrak to make modifications for carry-on bike service or include specially-fitted café cars on their Adirondack and Ethan Allen lines.

‘HUGE BOON’

Schumer said the demo is a significant first step of a service that could bring more visitors and tourism dollars to the Adirondacks, Hudson Valley, Albany, Saratoga and other North Country destinations.

“It will be a huge boon for recreation and tourism in the Adirondacks, attract more passengers to the Amtrak regional lines, encourage more competitive cyclists and triathletes to attend local events and pump more tourism dollars into New York’s economy,” he said in a news release.

He said Amtrak already has the Bring Your Bicycle On Board program on its Boston-Portland line, New York-Charlotte line and in Maine and California, where the program is so popular that Amtrak had to begin requiring reservations.

TOURISM DRAW

Local studies have shown that bicycle tourists spend on average between $100 and $300 per day and stay multiple nights when they visit the Capital Region. 

In 2011, tourism in the Adirondacks, Catskills, Hudson Valley and Capital-Saratoga region had a combined economic impact of nearly $7 billion, which was a 5 percent increase from 2010, the findings said. 

Tourism in those four regions supports more than 120,000 jobs and contributes $850 million in state and local tax revenue.

In collaboration with Amtrak, the State Department of Transportation would have to sign off on further testing and approve a long-term program.

Schumer said he applauds Amtrak for its help in supporting the growing popularity of bicycle tourism.

“I believe the demo will show Amtrak just how much demand there is for this service and convince them that bicycle service should be on regional rail lines throughout the state.”

Email Lohr McKinstry:lmckinstry@pressrepublican.com