Urgent lobby for bikes on trains

This article was published in 2000, in Newsletter 31.

Have you ever wanted to take your bike on the train, but were told that there was no space for it? The only way to guarantee that sufficient numbers of cycles will be carried on every train is to have it written into the train operators’ franchise agreements. The franchise agreements are contracts between the train companies and the government that stipulate the services that train operators have to provide. The agency responsible for the franchise agreements is the Shadow Strategic Rail Authority (SSRA)

The point at which changes can be introduced is when new franchise agreements are made either with present train operators or with new operators. WAGN, run by Prism Railways, are now giving up their franchises for the lines from Kings Lynn to Kings Cross via Cambridge and from Peterborough to London (which does not go via Cambridge). The SSRA are currently negotiating new franchise agreements for these lines. We need to lobby vigorously now for adequate cycle provision in these agreements. They must state that bikes should be carried on every train, not just during non-peak hours. Instead of specifying absolute numbers of bikes to be carried, they must specify the number of bikes per carriage, so that longer trains carry more bicycles.

The best way to get better franchise agreements with proper cycle provision is to write to your MP at The House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA to request that she lobbies for such changes. (Click here to find out the name of your MP).

You can contact the SSRA directly by writing to:

The Secretariat
55 Victoria Street
London SW1H 0UE

Alternatively, complete their feedback form.

You may find the text in the Box below useful in composing your letter or email.

Myra Van Inwegen

Many cyclists have, at one time or another, wanted to take their bikes with them on the train, only to find that they are not allowed on the train they wanted to use.

We ask that urgent attention be given to proper provision for bikes on trains in the new franchise agreements currently being negotiated by the Shadow Strategic Rail Authority for the lines from Kings Lynn to Kings Cross (via Cambridge), from Peterborough to Kings Cross and in all new franchise agreements for trains in East Anglia.

It is all too common for train companies to ban bicycles from trains at certain times of the day, or severely to limit the number of bikes allowed to as few as two bikes per train. It is important to be able to take bikes on all trains. If we want to cut down on car usage, the main options are walking, cycling, or public transport. Walking only makes sense for very short journeys, and local public transport is inadequate in many cities. Thus often the only logical way to make a car-free journey is with a bike. However, many people do not have the time or fitness to be able to cycle from where they live to their final destination. Taking a bike on the train can enable much longer car-free journeys.

The need to take bikes on trains is greatest during peak travel times, since this is when most people travel to work. However, this is exactly the time when bikes are most likely to be banned. Train companies argue that they need the space for people at these times, and that bikes cause a safety hazard when they are carried in doorways in crowded trains. There are straightforward solutions to these problems: more trains at peak times, more carriages per train, guards vans, or dedicated cycle carrying spaces. Or, if vestibules inside the sliding doors are widened slightly (to 1.8 metres), bikes could be carried safely in the offside unused doorways even on crowded trains. There is no reason to ban bikes at any time of day provided that the franchises specify sufficient capacity for passengers, luggage and cycles.

We would like minimum requirements for carriage of bikes on every train to be put in the franchise agreements. Instead of specifying absolute numbers of bikes to be carried, the requirements should specify the number of bikes per carriage. Then, longer trains will carry more bicycles, and the number of available cycle spaces will scale in proportion to the number of people carried. These bikes don’t need to be carried dispersed throughout the train: a guards van would be one acceptable way of carrying the bikes, as long as the appropriate number of bikes can be accommodated. We feel that a minimum acceptable number of bikes would be four per carriage.

The franchises should, we believe, require that bicycles be carried freely at all times without prior booking in exactly the same way as passengers, pushchairs, luggage, etc are carried at all times without any necessity to book in advance. The current unsatisfactory situation deters many cyclists from using trains and adds to the traffic congestion on the roads. Proper provision for bikes on trains is an essential component of an integrated transport system.

The need for proper provision is particularly acute and urgent for all trains to and from Cambridge where cycle usage is higher than anywhere else in the UK and where road traffic congestion is almost the worst in the UK.