Bikes and Trains

This article was published in 1998, in Newsletter 17.

A lot has been happening recently that could have a very positive effect for cyclists wishing to travel by train. Here’s a summary of what’s going on.

The National Cycling Strategy

As a Cambridge cyclist, you could be forgiven for thinking that the National Cycling Strategy has been forgotten! Launched in July 1996, its central targets are to:

  • double the number of trips by cycle (on 1996 figures) by end 2002
  • quadruple the number of trips by cycle (on 1996 figures) by end 2012

We are now over 18 months into the initial 5-year period, and I’ve hardly seen a mention in local policy-making. As we pointed out in National Bike Week last year, whether cities like Cambridge, Oxford and York reach the targets will have a disproportionately large effect on whether they can be achieved nationally – because these cities account for such a large fraction of current usage.

So, what’s all this got to do with ‘Bikes And Trains’? Read on!

The Intermodality Working Group

As an objective of the National Cycling Strategy, the National Cycling Forum was launched. This oversees the Strategy’s implementation, and is chaired by the Minister for Local Transport (Glenda Jackson, MP). This, in turn, set up the ‘Intermodality Working Group’, which consists of representatives from cycle campaign organisations, local government, train operators, bus companies and national government. It is working on improvements for cyclists who wish to use their bikes in conjunction with other modes of public transport, including train, bus, light rail, ferries and planes.

The Intermodality Working Group has targeted its activities in these key areas:

  • Operator perceptions – raising awareness of the value and potential of making provision for cyclists
  • The regulatory framework – how it might be relaxed to encourage innovation, but where it also fails cyclists with inadequate contractual safeguards
  • Information – why there is so little data available on how, when and where bicycles can be taken by public transport, and why ticketing systems are over-complex
  • Physical issues – how buildings could be improved to make access and parking for cyclists easier
  • The design of vehicles – overcoming the contractual and safety hurdles that are placing limitations on operator innovation, as cyclists become part of their growing market
  • Marketing – the absence of promoting bicycles and public transport as a viable tool in intermodal transport

The Working Group has begun with rail, and has been working with the Rail Regulator, resulting in a very useful position paper entitled ‘Using Cycles in Conjunction with Trains’. This states, for example

Although the Rail Regulator has no formal powers in relation to cycles on trains or at stations, he is keen to ensure that train operators are aware of the part the railways play in meeting the country’s transport needs as a whole and do more than the minimum necessary to comply with the letter of their franchise agreements or licences.

The Working Group’s first annual report to the National Cycling Forum makes extremely impressive reading. Contact me if you would like to read it. I am confident that we can expect continued improvements in national policy, as a direct result of the Working Group’s efforts.


Last year, a new code of practice entitled ‘CycleMark – Providing for Cyclists’ was launched by Sustrans, C-PAG and the CTC (as members of the Intermodality Working Group). It sets out objectives for rail operators for two distinct groups of users – those arriving at stations by bike (and parking) and those wishing to travel with their bike (and use their bike at both ends of the journey).

The code of practice covers these areas:

  • General Customer Information
  • Improved Access to Stations
  • Cycle Parking at Stations
  • Onboard Storage of Bicycles
  • At-Station Information and Facilities

In conjunction with the code of practice, an award scheme called CycleMark was set up, to recognise companies that have met the objectives. Passengers are invited to help monitor rail operators (both the good points and the bad), by means of a form on the reverse of the Code of Practice.

The first CycleMark was awarded to Anglia Railways last June. See below for more about Anglia’s work.

If you’d like to comment on any of the local companies (there are at least three that operate out of Cambridge) or read the code of practice, you can get your own copy by phoning the Sustrans Information Service on 0117 929 0888.

WAGN and Cambridge Station

We recently wrote to the managing director of WAGN (the company which manages Cambridge railway station) asking for more cycle parking, suggesting that cycle lockers be installed for regular commuters, and describing the cycle facility we recently saw in Groningen, which had:

  • cycle rental service – for visitors to the city,
  • cycle repair service – for bikes to be serviced whilst customers are travelling,
  • sale of spare parts and
  • secure cycle parking (for a small charge).

We’ll be meeting WAGN just as this Newsletter goes to press, to discuss our suggestions further.

Anglia Railways’ ‘Cycles On Trains’

We’ve mentioned Anglia Railways’ modification of their local trains before. In fact, last June, we gave Anglia a Cambridge Cycling Campaign ‘Golden Bell’ award for their work.

Not everyone has been quite so impressed with the conversion, unfortunately. Some have commented that space for 4 bikes per train is not very much. Others have expressed disappointment that it’s not possible to take tandems or some recumbent machines. I personally feel these comments don’t acknowledge the enormous effort Anglia and their partners on the scheme had to use to make room for any bikes at all. In the climate of privatisation, Anglia have been a rare company to be making such positive changes. And yes, 4 spaces may not sound very much. But these are small trains, for local services, and I look forward to the time when these are consistently used, to encourage Anglia (and other train operators) to make space for more bikes.

Clive Morris (Anglia Railways) and Brian Smith (Cambridgeshire County Council) at the launch
Image as described adjacent

Anglia officially started their new service on 1 March, and I went along to the launch, at Cambridge station on Friday 27 February.

So, how does the scheme work? Anglia are marketing the service with a leaflet encouraging people to make use of it. To quote the leaflet:

Secure your place with free reservations. To take your bike on the train it is best to reserve your place in advance, as four cycle spaces on each train can fill up quickly. However, provided space is available, those turning up on the day will be allocated a space on a first come – first served basis. To make your cycle reservation, call 01603 764776 or 01473 693469, or enquire at any staffed station.

The bike ticket then costs a ‘flat fee’ £1 – in other words, that covers both outward and return journeys. With their Anglia Plus ticket, it covers all your journeys for an entire day. (Sadly for Cambridge cyclists, that special ticket only covers Norfolk and Suffolk at the moment). And for commuters, there are cycle season tickets, which seem reasonably priced, making commuting with your bike very viable.

If you’d like to extend your horizons, riding further afield, why not give this new service a try? In the new climate of encouraging cyclists to use trains, you should find it very enjoyable. (Cambridge is on the edge of Anglia’s network. From here, they run trains to Ipswich, via Newmarket, Bury St Edmunds and Stowmarket amongst others).

And from April this year, Anglia Railways are offering a brand new free rescue service for their cycling passengers. If you are stranded whilst out cycling as a result of faults or damage to your bike, theft, accident or sudden illness, you can phone the ETA’s help-line, quote your ticket details, location and problem, and they will arrange assistance to pick you up and transport you to the nearest railway station.

I understand that Anglia’s next step will be making modifications to their stations, to make them more cycle-friendly.

Cycle Challenge and ScotRail

Anglia Railways’ ‘Cycles on Trains’ scheme was part-funded by Cycle Challenge. This was an initiative of the last government, to bring about innovative projects to encourage cycling – as a result of which, Cambridge has the Cycle Friendly Employers scheme.

In 1997, a Scottish equivalent was launched, and ScotRail Railways Limited were awarded £150 000 to modify 46 2-car trains to accommodate 2 cycles, and 30 other 2-car trains to accommodate an increase from 2 to 5 cycles.

And finally

Thank you to Peter Gazey and Rose Ades, of Bikerail, for their contributions to many of the projects I’ve described, and for material and suggestions for this article.

Clare Macrae