HARPERS FERRY, W.VA. — Bicyclists from major cities between Washington, D.C. and Chicago who want to bike the C&O Canal towpath or Great Allegheny Passage can now take the rails to their preferred trails with Amtrak’s new roll-on bicycle service.
The bicycle service, which began earlier this month, is available on Amtrak’s Capitol Limited line, which runs from Washington, D.C. to Chicago with many stops in between, including the train stations in Cumberland, Maryland, Martinsburg and Harpers Ferry. The service is available to passengers seven days a week.
Christopher Craig, owner of a bed and breakfast in Harpers Ferry who is also a member of the Trail and Town Alliance, said the bicycle service is simple to use. When passengers make a reservation to ride on the Capitol Limited, they can also choose to reserve space for a bicycle. The train can accommodate eight bicycles at a time, but the service is based on available space.
“Amtrak carries little commuter traffic. It’s mostly for tourists,” Craig said. “This bike service opens up many possibilities to explore the region. Trail activists, like the Trail and Town Alliance, got involved in pushing for this service because there are hundreds of thousands of bicyclists who travel the C&O Canal and Great Allegheny Passage each year. Most of them start in Pittsburgh or Cumberland for long-distance rides, but not every cyclist wants to do that.”
Prior to the bicycle service, Craig said, passengers could only bring their bikes onto the train at Amtrak stations with baggage service. To return home from a ride, cyclists would have to arrange a ride back to a train station to get home.
John Noel, deputy superintendent with the C&O Canal National Historical Park, said cyclists are the primary users of the park.
“This new service Amtrak is providing is one we’ve worked for a number of years to make available to users. Many visitors to the park have requested something like this,” Noel said. “It’s been a long-standing issue for folks who want to cycle, whether they begin in D.C. or Cumberland-Once your ride is done, how do you get back home?”
Craig said Amtrak had considered starting a bicycle service in the past, but part of the delay stemmed from a funding issue.
“Like many things, Amtrak is not flush with cash right now. It took a group of people pushing for (this service) and encouraging them. There’s even a national committee that has a goal to get bikes on all trains,” he said.
Noel said he expects an increase in the number of bicyclists using the C&O Canal National Historical Park now that the bicycle service is in place.
“It’s pretty early to tell, but I expect to see an increase in bicyclists on the C&O Canal based on the number of requests we got from people who wanted to use this service,” he said.
Craig said the Amtrak bicycle service is part of a larger, regional movement to promote intermodal transportation. Whether it’s for leisure, fitness or commuting, many individuals and groups want to make it easier to walk, bike and take public transit, he said.
Locally, the EPTA now has bike racks on its buses, and Craig said the EPTA has expressed interest in working with Amtrak on the bike service and similar initiatives.
For more information about Amtrak’s Capitol Limited bicycle service, including locations, rates and availability, visit www.amtrak.com/capitol-limited-train.
-Staff writer Mary Stortstrom can be reached at 304-725-6581 or www.twitter.com/mstortstromJN.