Linda McKenna Boxx said she has been trying for more than a decade to get Amtrak to improve accommodations for bicycles on its Pittsburgh-to-Washington, D.C., trains, which closely follow the trails that connect the two cities.
On Tuesday, that goal moved a step closer to reality, when Amtrak allowed 20 bicyclists to take their two-wheelers onto the Capitol Limited train in Pittsburgh in a one-day trial of roll-on service.
"It went lickety-split. I don't think we cost Amtrak a second in dwell time," said Ms. Boxx, president of the Allegheny Trail Alliance.
It might be a while before the railroad makes the service permanent. Spokesman Craig Schulz said feedback will be gathered from bicyclists, the train crew and operations personnel. Then, Amtrak will need to identify funding to retrofit baggage cars with bike racks, he said.
"We know there's a demand for this," he said. "The cycling community is very eager to see this. It's something we absolutely want to do."
Amtrak placed a baggage car with racks for six bicycles on the Capitol Limited for the experiment. Six cyclists got on in Pittsburgh and off in Connellsville, where six others with bikes, including Ms. Boxx, boarded. Four bicyclists replaced them in Cumberland, Md., and four others rode the leg from Harpers Ferry, W.Va., to the nation's capital.
The riders rolled their bicycles into the baggage car, lifted them onto hooks and secured them with a spring-loaded latch.
Ms. Boxx, in a phone interview from Cumberland, said the trail alliance has been suggesting the service for more than a decade, aggressively pushing it with a letter-writing campaign in recent years. "They said they got over a thousand letters," she said of Amtrak.
Amtrak offers roll-on service on a handful of routes, but for now, those who want to travel with bicycles on the Capitol Limited must box them as checked baggage. They can't get off the train anywhere but Pittsburgh and Washington, because the other stations on the way aren't staffed with baggage handlers.
Amtrak charges a $10 fee for checking bicycles as baggage on the Capitol Limited. Riders can use their own box or buy one from the railroad for an additional $15.
Some of the routes that already have roll-on service offer it for free; others have a $5 or $10 fee. The limit on the number of bikes on any given route ranges from four to 10.
Mr. Schulz did not have a cost estimate for retrofitting baggage cars with racks. Ms. Boxx said she believed it could be done for $5,000 to $6,000 per car. "If that's what's holding it up, we could raise that money," she said.
The Capitol Limited route more or less shadows the newly completed Great Allegheny Passage trail that goes from Pittsburgh to Cumberland and the C&O Towpath from there to Washington. Roll-off service would allow riders to board or leave trains at Connellsville, Cumberland, Martinsburg, W.Va., Harpers Ferry and Rockville, Md.
"Part of our mission is to be energy-efficient and a green mode of transportation," Mr. Schulz said. "We absolutely want to connect those modes."
Jon Schmitz: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1868. Visit the PG's transportation blog, The Roundabout, at www.post-gazette.com/Roundabout. Twitter: @pgtraffic. First Published October 15, 2013 7:43 AM