Bikes on trains - Bike Magic

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Bikes on trains

This is a brief guide to the minefield of travelling
by train with a conventional bike. Train companies usually class folding bikes as
hand luggage and tandems have all sort of bureaucratic rules surrounding their carriage,
so their use will not be covered by this guide.

So you want to travel from A to B by train
with a bike?

According to the “National Conditions of
Carriage” by which all train companies in the UK are bound by, the train company
has the right refuse you if there is not enough room on the train or if it is likely
to “cause injury, inconvenience or damage to property” or even if it the
“loading and unloading of the luggage may cause delay to the train”, so
they have plenty of reasons up their sleeves to prevent you from travelling.

Sustrans along with the CTC and the Cyclist’s
Public Affairs Group have put together a code of practice for rail companies to follow,
in order to improve the rights of the cyclist travelling by rail. If operators meet
the requirements of the policy they receive the “Cycle Mark”. Similarly
an organisation called “The Railway Development Society” has devised advice
for rail operators, but so far the majority of operators have not heeded this advice.

What else can prevent you from taking your
bike then?

Well because there are now over 25 separate
train companies across the UK there are 25 rulebooks regarding bikes on trains making
it increasingly difficult to plan and carry out a train journey with a bike, see
the table that follows.

What does it cost?

The majority of train companies request a £3
bike reservation fee payable in advance of travel however some offer a reduced rate
of £1 if you book 2 hours before the train leaves its first station and some
allow you to take bikes for free. The £3 fee is usually covers your entire
journey but in one direction only and is the same charge regardless of the length
of the journey.

How many bikes can you get on one train?

This all depends on the route that you are travelling
on, the time of day, the train company, and the type of train, basically anything
between none and 20. This is by far the most ambiguous issue and although the number
of bikes you can fit on any one train is set by the space available (which varies
from train to train) the train operating companies insist on imposing their own limits,
often well below the actual capacity of the guards compartment.

The space allowed for bikes
has been reduced over the past 10 years as new trains have been introduced on local
services, replacing the old slam-door trains which had a much higher storage capacity.
These newer trains usually have space for only 2 bikes, because of the concentration
on higher numbers of passenger seats to reduce overcrowding and increase revenues
for the train companies.

What are the fees and limits in my area?

Finding out exactly what the rules are for your
train operating company is a long a tedious task in some cases and in others it is
clear from leaflets available at stations it all depends on the relative cycle friendliness
of your local service provider.

I have carried out research into some of the
major train operating companies and my findings are listed below. All information
quoted below is as a result of a research by telephoning or e-mailing the company
or by using web based resources. Although I believe it to be correct at time of publishing,
always check with the rail company before travelling.

Train Operator Bike Fee Bike Spaces Booking Required Exceptions
Anglia Railways £1 Local Services

£3 Long Distance
4 Long Distance Only Peak Hours
Central Trains Free Local Services

£1 Long Distance
2 Long Distance Only No Known Exceptions
Connex Free Off Peak 2 or 5 Not Usually Necessary Peak Hours
First North Western Free 2 Booking Essential No Known Exceptions
Great Eastern Railways Free Off Peak Up to 5 Booking Advised Peak Hours
GNER £3 Several Booking Essential No Known Exceptions
Great Western Railways £1 Advance Booking

Otherwise £3
6 Booking Advised No Known Exceptions
Midland Mainline £3 2 or 5 Booking Advised Peak Hours on Turbostar Trains
Northern Spirit Free 2 Booking Essential Peak Hours
Scotrail Free 2 to 5 Local Services

20 Sleeper Service
Booking Advised No Known Exceptions
South West Trains £3 on Some Routes

Free on Some Routes
2 or 5 Booking Advised Peak Hours
Thames Trains Free 2 or 4 Not Usually Necessary Peak Hours
Virgin Cross Country £3 4 to 10 Booking Advised Certain Trains
Virgin West Coast £3 4 Booking Required No Known Exceptions
Wales & West £1 Advance Booking

Otherwise £3

Local Routes Free
2 Not Usually Necessary Peak Hours


Despite the moves to introduce codes of practice,
the supposedly cycle friendly rail companies do complicate the issue of traveling
by train with a bike, by all having different rules, fees and booking arrangements.
As a result of my research I have found that it is very difficult to find out anything
about taking bikes on trains. I looked particularly on the Internet and although
the train companies should be encouraging taking bikes on trains I found very little
reference to bikes on the majority of train companies websites.

All this said it is possible to take bikes on
most trains, giving cyclists an opportunity to travel with their bikes countrywide
without the need for a car. Another point of note is that it is not always necessary
to book or pay the £3 booking fee.

If you have any tips for fellow train travelers
please share them in the new Bikemagic Forum.

For more information about taking
bikes by train and preparing for an Offroad Adventure as well as epic rides, equipment
reviews, latest news and more


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