The Chainlink

Are you planning a long bike ride for the fall? Have you wanted to give bike touring a try? Have you thought of a route in Illinois but are unsure of how to get you and your bike there? Using our state’s “walk-on” bikes-on-Amtrak program allows bicyclists to do close-to-home day, weekend, or even longer trips. The League of Illinois Bicyclists has developed a guide to encourage and assist Amtrak-based bicycle tourists by providing information for participating communities, including links to maps with good rural routes near the town. For more information, check out our Bike-on-Amtrak Guide page at http://www.bikelib.org/maps-and-rides/illinois-bike-on-amtrak-guide/! LIB has also produced route guides for the Mississippi River Trail, the Route 66 Trail and Mackinaw Valley Trail. We are currently updating our popular Grand Illinois Trail guide. For more information on our route guides, visit our website at http://www.bikelib.org/maps-and-rides/route-guides/.
 

Gina Kenny 
LCI# 2446 
Outreach Director 
League of Illinois Bicyclists 
gina@bikelib.org 
(708) 334-2244 
http://www.bikelib.org/ 
The League of Illinois Bicyclists is the statewide not-for-profit advocacy organization dedicated to making Illinois a land of safe and enjoyable bicycling for all; promoting bicycle access, education and safety.

Follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bikeLIB.

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Nice job on the guide.  Now you need to work on bike routes for all the other towns where the trains stop.

My biggest problem with Amtrak remains their policy of jacking up fare prices if the ticket isn't bought in advance.  Then when you get on the train, they're half empty because so many decided to drive rather than pay the inflated rate.  Seems like they should be encouraging people to ride with cheaper tickets on trains with low advance ticket sales.

I agree with "Seems like they should be encouraging people to ride with cheaper tickets on trains with low advance ticket sales." But not with the rest of it. First of all a little about Amtrak pricing policy. 

Amtrak seems to have two types of pricing structures:

1. The traditional one followed the mantra the earlier you buy, the cheaper the ticket.  Tickets went into 4 or five buckets.  The first tickets sold were from the cheapest bucket; and when that bucket emptied, it moved to the next higher bucket, etc.  Similarly, cancellations went back into the system; and if enough cancellations occurred, the price dropped.

2. Revenue management similar to airlines.  That is, the earlier you buy, the cheaper the ticket mantra no longer holds.  Especially on popular routes during peak season, space may enter inventory (i.e., 11 mouths out) at high bucket.  Then if bookings fail to materialize as expected, the price drops.  For example, it would be foolhardy for Amtrak to start selling bedrooms on the Empire Builder during the summer at low bucket.  I'm sure Amtrak revenue managers are watching to see how the recent BNSF self-destruct is affecting sales, and taking action accordingly.

The first type tends to be used for state supported trains, like Illinois, where the state calls the shots, not Amtrak. The second has been used for several years for long distance and NE corridor trains not supported by states. But either way, trains won't leave the station "half empty" at high bucket.

Finally, if you really want to get a feel for Amtrak fares, check out amsnag.net.  Taking Chcago to Galesbgurg as an example, you will see that the prices are 21, 30, 40, 54.  Tonight's Illinois Zephyr is $40 (the Carl Sandurg has already left the station), Tomorrow's (Saturday) Carl Sandburg is $21 and the Zephyr $21, and  the next day (Sunday) are $40 and $54, respectively.

So at least for tomorrow the "policy of jacking up fare prices if the ticket isn't bought in advance." isn't being followed. Moreover, it's been my observation from frequently riding the Illinois Zephyr that the price close to departure reflects how crowded the train actually is, taking the number of cars into consideration.

Perhaps things have changed.  The last time I took the train into Chicago on short notice the ticket price was $33 IIRC.  The price was something like half that (on the same train on the same day of the week) if bought far enough ahead of time.  The train I rode was no where near fully occupied.

I wish I could take my bike on the Empire Builder.



Beth Binkovitz said:

I wish I could take my bike on the Empire Builder.

Beth, 

  You can take a bike on Empire Builder.  There are two main restrictions:

1. You have to board and embark at stations offering checked baggage

2. Bike has to be in a box. The boxed bike counts as one of your two free checked bags.

 I have traveled with bike on other routes, but not Empire Builder.  I am planning a trip for next spring where I will take bike on train one direction and FedEx it the other.  That is because I am bike touring between two stations one offers checked baggage the other does not.

I realize this isn't a practical or economic possibility for everyone, but I have a folding bike, and took it from Columbus, WI to Winona, MN on the Empire Builder last fall, for a rail-trail ride from across the river from Winona back to Reedsburg, WI.  I was able to carry it on and stow it in the lower level baggage area (although it was quite full--no one wants to carry even their small bags upstairs!).

Winona does also have checked baggage service, so a boxed full-size bike could be brought.  Removing the pedals and turning the handlebars for boxing, apparently isn't too difficult with the right tools and a couple practice runs--that said, I don't know how to do the handlebars. (For some bikes, it's easier to remove the handlebars from their bracket rather than loosen the headset.)

Elwood Gruschow said:



Beth Binkovitz said:

I wish I could take my bike on the Empire Builder.

Beth, 

  You can take a bike on Empire Builder.  There are two main restrictions:

1. You have to board and embark at stations offering checked baggage

2. Bike has to be in a box. The boxed bike counts as one of your two free checked bags.

 I have traveled with bike on other routes, but not Empire Builder.  I am planning a trip for next spring where I will take bike on train one direction and FedEx it the other.  That is because I am bike touring between two stations one offers checked baggage the other does not.

I took my full-size bike on Amtrak from Chicago to Princeton a couple of weekends ago, to ride part of the Hennepin Canal Trail. (I also took the Van Galder Bus from Madison, Wisconsin, to Union Station, which allows an unboxed bike in the cargo hold, for $10; $5 if boxed. Not sure I'd bring a fancy bike that way, as it could get banged about.)

It went pretty smoothly. I bought the bike ticket online. I hadn't seen this guide beforehand, but the conductor directed me to a car that had a space behind the last row of seats.  I hoisted the bike up the steep stairs and around the sharp bend into the car. My bike mostly fit in the space, but not perfectly (it's not a very big bike, either); there wasn't really anything to bunge-cord it to, although i sort of tried to a bar on the back of the seats, so I propped my panniers against it to help avoid it falling over or rolling on a curve.

Maybe in the future, an entry for Princeton, and for biking the Hennepin, would be a cool addition to the guide?  Only problem--there are NO bike shops along the eastern half of the canal that I could find.  Closest was in Peru (16 miles away). 

Me on the train...

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