Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Bikes on Trains - A guide

A matter of great contention, taking bikes on trains has been written about extensively. Policies seem to vary between train operators, and sometimes even within services depending on the time of day. That's not to mention the discretion of train managers, but I won't get in to that! Therefore, I have compiled a concise reference guide for the major train operators policies, or at least my interpretation of what can sometimes be clear as the proverbial muck. 

I have used several train services to transport my bike, each of which has varied slightly. My general tips are:

  • Check and check again whether you have to make a reservation, as some operators will outright refuse, even if empty, if you don't have one.
  • Get to the station early so you can assess where on the train you need to stow your bike.
  • Travel outside peak times where possible, as bikes are often outright forbidden, or subject to restrictions.
  • Take a lock. Even on services storing you bike separately; it will ease your mind.
  • It may sound trivial, but be careful walking through stations in cleats, as the floors are often rather slippy!

Virgin Trains
Virgin Trains require a cycle reservation for all cycles, which must be done over the phone, or at a manned station. They have the capacity to carry up to 4 bikes per train, which are kept in a compartment behind the driver. As a result of this, you must contact staff approx. 15 minutes before your train in order for them to let you on, and inform the driver where to let you off. There are no restrictions on peak services, as the bikes are kept in a section of the train closed to passengers.

London Midland
London Midland's cycle policy is more casual, with no reservation needed. Bikes are stored in a designated section of the train, and there is space for 2, or more at the train manager’s discretion on quiet services. I have been told, however, that a wheelchair can use the bike space as well. One final point is that (other than folding) may not be taken on peak time services to London Euston arriving between 07:00 and 09:59, and departing from 16:00 to 18:59, Mondays to Fridays excluding public holidays.

Northern Rail
Northern Rail has a similar policy of 2 bikes per train, with no prior booking needed. Cycle storage space is almost always marked on the outside of the train, so you aren't left puzzled, and usually has a separate compartment with hooks for stability. The policy states that conductors can refuse entry on busy trains, but I have never experienced this, as most trains do have the separate compartments.

First Great Western appears to be reasonably bike friendly, with restrictions applying to commuter trains travelling from/to London Paddington. They do however produce a helpful booklet (link below) detailing the correct procedures. Additionally, spaces must be reserved on high speed trains, about which information is provided in the booklet.

First Transpennine Express
First Transpennine Express has a very informative and friendly cycle policy page, encouraging cycling in general. It provides swathed of information about taking your bike on one of their services, recommending that a reservation is booked 24 hours in advance. There do not appear to be any restrictions regarding peak times, although it does state staff can refuse entry if the train is deemed to be too full.

Southern Railway's is possible the most negative cycle policy I have come across whilst researching. It starts with stipulating that no bikes may be carried on peak services, which is understandable, but then carries on to detail numerous restrictions on various services and times. Even on the off peak/non restricted services, negativity is in abundance, with the opening line: 'Bike space on board our trains is extremely limited and because cycle reservations are not possible on Southern services we cannot guarantee that space will be available'. I'm not sure I would fancy attempting to take a bike on here!

Southeastern Railway's seems to be fairly neutral with regards to passengers with bikes. Reasonable peak time restriction apply, with bikes 'not permitted on peak time services arriving in London from Monday to Friday between 07.00 and 09.59, and leaving London between 16.00 and 18.59'. However, it does allow bikes at anytime on services travelling away from London. Although it doesn't state on the website, I assume it is a hop on policy, no reservation needed.

South West
South West trains also seem relatively happy to accept bikes, albeit on off peak services. They provide plenty of information regarding restrictions due to arrive at London Waterloo between 0715 and 1000 inclusive, or which leave London Waterloo between 1645 and 1900 inclusive. This is provided based on location, with a cycle restrictions map provided. Additionally, journeys between London Waterloo and Salisbury/Exeter/Bristol must have a cycle reservation booked 24 hours before.

East Coast
East Coast seem quite happy to accept bikes, and whilst it doesn't specify maximum number, the policy states that they are to be stowed in the guards van. There does not appear to be any peak time restrictions, but reserving a space (or 2 for a tandem) is necessary. However, this can (sensibly) be done whilst booking a ticket online, as well as through a manned travel centre.

Cross country
Cross Country's cycle policy also appears to be rather welcoming. It advises customers to make a reservation by phone, as trains contain 2 reservable spaces, and one additional non-reservable space. There don't appear to be any peak time restrictions, although staff can refuse entry, and tandems are not permitted. Presumably this doesn't apply to reserved spaces.

Chiltern Railways
Chiltern Railways permit bikes on all weekend or public holiday services, with a total ban during the times of 07:45 to 10:00 (arriving London Marylebone or Birmingham Moor Street) and 16:30 to 19:30 (Leaving London Marylebone or Birmingham Moor Street). Presumably those travelling against the commuter flow are unrestricted.

First Capital Connect  
First Capital Connect seem to welcome bikes on services with no restrictions. However, there are many restrictions, which would take rather a while to summarise, so I have included the link to the information below! Despite their number, the restrictions do not seem unreasonable, as it is not hard to imagine that these services are suitably busy being London based.

Feel free to send any experiences you've had on trains, if I get a few I'll write a post about them. 

This is intended to be a helpful guide, please contact me if there are any inaccuracies/misinterpretations, and I will correct them.


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