CityCyclingEdinburgh Forum » Infrastructure

Booking bikes on trains

(48 posts)

  1. Rosie
    Member

    I booked my bike on the train to Mallaig last Saturday for a holiday in Skye. I tried to book the bike on the train returning from Kyle of Lochalsh. I got the 12:05 from Kyle to Inverness, then Inverness to Perth, then Perth to Edinburgh. I couldn't book the bike, for which leg I didn't know. I thought I'd risk it and went ahead with the booking.

    Anyway, for the Mallaig train no-one checked my bike booking and there was one of those spaces which take 6 bikes hanging from their back wheels. I was the only cycle who went all the way to Mallaig. Some got off at Fort William.

    I was a bit anxious about being stranded in Kyle/Inverness/Perth but turned up and no-one checked my booking. 2 carriages, and, I think, spaces for 4 bikes i.e. 2 sets of those protruding U-shaped bars which you strap your bike on (have they a name)? (PS I should have checked the exact provision).

    There was a quick change in Inverness. Conductor said, "Are you booked?" I said no, she said "there's space down there - take off your bags" and there were 3 bikes on the U-shaped bars. There must have been other sets as well - it was a sizable train.

    Then at Perth, another quick change and again the bars. 3 bikes on one bar. The other two cyclists had not been able to book their bikes either - they had got on at Pitlochry and the staff there had said that they should be able to get on. They too had been a bit anxious about finding space.

    The sense I get is that the computers are saying one thing about space for bikes, while the train staff say another thing.

    Anyway, what does this booking mean? I've had other experiences with it. I was in Orkney and called to book a train from Wick to Edinburgh. Nae space for the bike. So I went to Wick in trepidation, with fear of being stranded. I inquired at the station. Woman looked at computer and said, no space. So when the wee train came in, I put on the bike, no-one else put on theirs and after we'd been travelling for a while the guard asked me if I'd seen any cyclists. He said those who had booked hadn't turned up. Presumably they had some kind of open ticket rather than an advance single. At Inverness again no-one blinked an eye at my bike.

    Even in Dunbar when I was tired and wanting the quick way home from Berwick upon Tweed the bloke in the station said, nae room on the train, and there was room. I've often jumped on a train spontaneously at, say, Newtonmore, and there's been no problem. I've never been refused.

    This has probably been covered before in a thread but this booking system seems to not work. All it does is (a) put off potential cycling tourists in Scotland and (b) give slight stabs on anxiety to those who are winging it. Any suggestions on how it could be fixed? I can see you could get an impossible number of cycles on a train but I was on very popular tourist routes.

    Posted 3 years ago #
  2. sallyhinch
    Member

    You do definitely need to book if you want to put your bike on a Virgin train (and probably East Coast as well). That's because you basically lock your bike in a cupboard and there needs to be someone at the station to let you and your bike out. That said, it doesn't always work, making for some rather stressful trips.

    Where the bike space is also flip up seating (e.g. the Transpennine express from Edinburgh to Lockerbie / Manchester) it can be handy to have a bike booking to persuade the people sitting in the flip up seats to give them up for your bike (I usually give them my matching seat reservation and just spend the journey squeezed in next to my bike as it's often in a completely different carriage)

    Suggestions? Other than 'bring back the guard's van' - not a clue. More of the 6-bike trains would be good but they're quite old - I live in fear of our trains being 'upgraded' to ones where you can only squeeze on two bikes and that only if someone in a wheelchair doesn't need the space

    Posted 3 years ago #
  3. gembo
    Member

    On GNER used to go in the guards van at the front of the train, huge amount of room for parcels? And bikes and definitely needed guard to get in and out. But then changed to cupboard at back of train lucky to get two in also didn't seem to be locked so you have some slight trepidation that someone might walk off with your bike?

    Every time I go to Stirling from Edinburgh park (quite often) I have related worry about whether I will get the bike on. I often end up just going all the way in to Waverley to make sure I have a space. Coming back from Stirling can be tight but you usually get on but then you often see cyclists at Falkirk or Linlithgow getting refused.

    I do not think there is a solution as Sally mentioned the six hook rolling stock is ancient and runs on the slow route to Glasgow where two bikes would be busy,

    I fear the only way is to adjust expectations that the bike will get on. So only go with bike outwith peak, only go when you have a booking (presumably this gets honoured?)

    Not ideal but learnt on this forum that you can't get your bike on a peak train in holland and outwith peak you have to buy the bike a ticket. A consequence of the popularity of cycling?

    Posted 3 years ago #
  4. sallyhinch
    Member

    I think if everyone who wanted to take their bike on a Dutch train tried, some sort of a bike black hole would develop (if the bike parking outside train stations is anything to go by). Hence the Dutch concentrate on things like OV-fiets where you can hire a bike at any station in the country, and massive bike parking where you ride your clunker to and from the station, perhaps with one at each end, and keep your good bike at home. None of which helps the average touring cyclist who wants to take their steed with them on the train (I don't think you can book a slot on a Dutch train for your bike either).

    Posted 3 years ago #
  5. Rosie
    Member

    Most of my experience has been with First. I've mostly booked with Virgin and GNER - though not always. I'm loath to point out to First about the computer saying one thing to a passenger and the staff doing another, in case they come down on the staff!

    Posted 3 years ago #
  6. chdot
    Admin

    'Bikes on trains' is a perennial topic on CCE!

    Eg

    As you have found, the problem is randomness of theory/practice/info.

    Currently there is the 'franchise renewal' process.

    It remains to be seen if things can get better!

    Posted 3 years ago #
  7. Rosie
    Member

    Thanks chdot. I knew there'd be some well informed comments. I should have taken proper notes of numbers and provision. I've had splendid tours in Scotland and psychologically I should not try and book the cycle because if I get "no spaces" I then fret, whereas if I just turn up, I don't. However, that is a good deal more expensive. Booking rail travel in the UK is so Byzantine anyway, and throwing in cycle booking complicates an already brain-bending system.

    I was traumatised by fears of being trapped in Wick for an indefinite period.

    Posted 3 years ago #
  8. chdot
    Admin

  9. gembo
    Member

    @ Rosie that is a very great fear. Firstly being trapped in wick. For any time period. Then add the indefinite nature and we are into the realms of a franz Kafka short story or indeed an Arab strap song.

    Posted 3 years ago #
  10. Slug
    Member

    I recently booked a return trip from Edinburgh to Newcastle and, for once, had no problem booking the bikes on with East Coast.

    I'll be heading south from Amsterdam and then up the Rhine and will subsequently need to get a train back to Amsterdam, but I can't book it as I'm not sure where I'll end up. I checked Deutsche Bahn which looks very German (efficient) when it comes to booking bikes on, but never having actually booked a bike on there, I'm just hoping there is no problem. When viewing the timetables, there's a wee check box at the bottom of the page to show only trains that will take bicycles... cool!

    What I did notice - for anyone who's interested - is that getting a train to Amsterdam from Freiburg in Germany looks to be around half the price of getting one from Basel in Switzerland and they're only thirty-odd miles apart. Assuming I make it to Basel, it looks like I'll be cycling back to Freiburg... not really ideal.

    Posted 3 years ago #
  11. sallyhinch
    Member

  12. calmac
    Member

    I've booked many times for trains on the Fort William, Oban and Inverness lines and never had a problem. But I've always booked at least 2-3 weeks ahead. I once booked ahead for a trip back from Fort William, leading to three poor unbooked sods getting turfed off the train to make way for us. Sorry guys.

    I've got on without booking a few times too, and always got space. A conductor once attempted to give me a stern ticking off for getting on at Aviemore without a booking for the bike - even though there was space. It was a ticking off I refused to accept.

    I got on a Big Fast Train of some desription at Montrose last year, I presume it was a GNER. I made it on at the last second and just hurled my bike into a vestibule-type area. The ticket guy didn't say anything, but that could have been because I was bleeding profusely from below the knee from an accident I had on the way into the station!

    Most workdays I take the bike Linlithgow to Edinburgh Park and back - but I only rarely get a train before the 0907 or back before the 1843. I've never failed to get on at Linlithgow, and only three times have I not got on at Edinburgh Park (though there have been some close shaves).

    As for Dutch trains, I'm planning a cycling trip for next year or the year after, and if I can't get bikes on the train back from Groningen to Amsterdam ferry port then I'm screwed. Can you really not take bikes on at all?

    Posted 3 years ago #
  13. chdot
    Admin

    "had no problem booking the bikes on with East Coast"

    As long as you look for (and find) the box to tick!

    I recently booked a trip to London two months ahead. The train I wanted had no bike spaces left! So I just booked the next train.

    Posted 3 years ago #
  14. PS
    Member

    As for Dutch trains, I'm planning a cycling trip for next year or the year after, and if I can't get bikes on the train back from Groningen to Amsterdam ferry port then I'm screwed. Can you really not take bikes on at all?

    My understanding is that bikes are not allowed on peak time commuter services and, outwith the peak, you have to buy a ticket for the bike. That's based on hear say rather then direct experience, so I'd suggest you check!

    Posted 3 years ago #
  15. Mandopicker101
    Member

    I travel twice a week with Cross Country from Waverley to Glasgow Central (it's significantly cheaper than Scotrail's services).

    They have a whopping three spaces available for non-folding bikes, comprising two shower cubicle-like space where you hang your pride and joy by its front wheel. Two of these spaces are reservable, the third is open to all comers (and the trick is to get your bike into the single, unreservable slot). Reservations are free, but not easy to make, and there's usually no indication on the train that someone's booked their bike on when you get to Haymarket or Motherwell.

    The bike space is next to a large luggage bay, which could easily accomodate more bikes if it was set up as a flexible area (i.e. luggage when there's a cast of thousands with backpacks, bikes when there's four people travelling together).

    As a consequence of being told there's 'Nae space son' or 'Somebody needs to get aff NOW!' at Haymarket when more than three bikes attempted the journey, I bought a second-hand folder...

    Posted 3 years ago #
  16. chdot
    Admin

    "Two of these spaces are reservable, the third is open to all comers"

    That's a good idea!

    (Though have more than three 'slots' would be better.)

    Posted 3 years ago #
  17. smsm1
    Member

    You can reserve bikes online through some operator websites such as East Coast and any First Group operator, including Scotrail, even if your train is not that particular operator, and the operator you are travelling on doesn't support bicycle space reservations online.

    More space would be much better.

    Posted 3 years ago #
  18. recently took the bike (ad hoc)on a trans Pennine service.

    Space for two bikes in a very nifty bike holder. Your front wheel slotted in neatly and they seemed very stable.

    When the doors opened, the conductor even very sensibly advised those waiting with kids buggies to let me on first, otherwise we wouldn't all fit properly.

    On another service, the conductor allowed six bikes on and advised us all how to fit six into two.

    Quite impressive bike carrier, very impressive customer service.

    Posted 3 years ago #
  19. dg145
    Member

    I regularly travel with my (non-folding) bike on the Edinburgh Park to Armadale route(Edinburgh to Helensburgh service). These trains will have either one or two cars where there is a rail for bikes outside the toilet cubicle.

    I'm not sure what the rule is about numbers allowed but it's not unusual to have 3 or 4 bikes stacked up here. I think the most I've seen on one occasion was six!

    I've also had occasions where I've just stood in the aisle beside the doors when there was no room elsewhere (sometimes having to get off and on at each stop to let people off).

    I've not (yet) had any ticket collector suggest that there was no room, or that I was causing any problem.

    In 2 years of regular commuting this way I think there has only been one occasion when I've not got on a train - and that was my decision as that one train was so full that those standing were almost spilling onto the platform when the doors opened.

    Posted 3 years ago #
  20. fimm
    Member

    @dg145 those will be the same trains I use for my Haymarket to Livingston North commute. Agree, there's plenty of space for bikes etc on them.

    Posted 3 years ago #
  21. smsm1
    Member

    The Cycle.travel site has a lot of useful info re cycling and trains: http://cycle.travel/advice/cycling_by_train

    Posted 3 years ago #
  22. jdanielp
    Member

    I've been reading these comments with interest since I'm going on a bicycle trip this weekend with three friends, travelling on the train from Edinburgh to Dunblane early on Saturday and then getting a train back from Pitlochry on Sunday afternoon/evening.

    I will report back next week, assuming that we manage to gain access to Fortress Waverley to begin with of course!

    Posted 3 years ago #
  23. Dangerous
    Member

    Travelled many times with my bike on various trains.

    "Advance" tickets which require a seat reservation for a specfic train should also allow a bike reservation.

    "Local" services by First Scotrail probably will not allow bike reservations. I try and get round that by catching the train from Waverley instead of Haymarket. If there is another bike try and find out where they are getting off (i.e. before or after you). Never been refused or seen anyone else refused. The 2 bike space on 170s can fit up to 5 bikes, depends a lot on handlebar width (Racer or MTB bars)

    Note GNER does not exist anymore, they have been replaced by East Coast. As stated above I usually book my travel using the East Coast site and request bike reservations.

    Posted 3 years ago #
  24. UtrechtCyclist
    Member

    On Thursday we will try emigrating from Holland to the UK via bike+train+ferry. The Dutch trains are fine, although we're assuming that we may miss a couple due to them being overcrowded. I booked on cross country from Cambridge to Derby yesterday, it took about five minutes on the phone which makes me think they have an unnecessarily complicated system. I'm just hoping Harwich to Cambridge will be okay...

    Incidentally @calmac @ps it appears that during July and August you can take your bike on Dutch trains at any time, the following page is probably google translatable - http://www.ns.nl/reizigers/ovchipkaart/reizen/meenemen-fiets-huisdier.html

    @slug - have you thought about booking a ticket early for your train back along the Rhine, I know you don't know quite how far you'll get but maybe the potential extra cost in paying for the whole distance is offset by the fact it's cheaper if you pay early? I'm guessing the train route pretty much follows the Rhine.

    Posted 3 years ago #
  25. gembo
    Member

    Buried in a programme called secrets of our streets (on bbc iplayer now) which last week was about moray place and connected crescents. Just before the decline of the area brought about by death duties one inhabitant of moray place was the master of the Linlithgow hunt. He used to take his horse on the train to Linlithgow according to the programme.

    Amazingly the current inhabitants (area has recovered thanks to mrs thatcher etc) allowed the cameras in and even told the director how much they had paid for their properties.

    This week Duke Street in Glasgow claiming to be the longest street in Europe.

    Posted 3 years ago #
  26. Slug
    Member

    @UtrechtCyclist, a good idea, thanks, and I may well book before we leave. At present, we're still debating (arguing) about whether to head straight down the Rhein into Switzerland or cut down the Neckar to Heidelberg and the Black Forest. Decisions, decisions...

    Posted 3 years ago #
  27. Morningsider
    Member

    UtrechtCyclist - Harwich-Cambridge should be okay, I think there are four bike spaces on each train. Also, the service is operated by Abellio, the international arm of NS (Dutch Railways).

    Posted 3 years ago #
  28. jdanielp
    Member

    At the weekend a group of four of us travelled from Waverley to Bridge of Allan by train, cycled from there up to Killen (via Callandar) and stayed overnight at the Bridge of Lochay Hotel (much appreciated due to the afternoon/evening deluge), then ended up splitting on the return route after Kenmore - two of us headed for a train home from Pitlochry and the other two from Perth.

    The journey to Bridge of Allan is not bookable with a bicycle so we turned up at about quarter to nine to catch the train just after 9am. It turned out that the one bicycle rack on that train (a horizontal rack designed for two bikes) already had three bikes on it when we tried to board so we had to wait for the next train scheduled half-an-hour later. A guy on his own arrived while we were debating what to do and we waved him on if he could find space, which he did, although the guard then came and accosted him for trying to put a fourth bike on board and we missed the conclusion. The next train had a bicycle alcove for (in theory I think) hanging two bikes. We put two bikes in and then waited to ask the guard if we could travel with the other two bikes or not. He was quite happy about us putting them in the disabled bay in the adjoining carriage (both of these trains having been merely two carriage affairs), although a lady with a pushchair promptly arrived. Luckily my friend's bike is actually a full-size folder so he folded his up and I leant mine against an empty luggage rack and sat near it for the trip and we managed to travel to Bridge of Allan.

    Bikes are in theory bookable on the return journey from Pitlochry (our original desination), but no spaces were apparently available on the system for the Sunday. We did manage to book the bikes two at a time on evening trains from Perth however, so changed our plans to head there instead. Due to mechanical issues with one of the bikes we split up, as mentioned, with the problematic bike and partner heading to Pitlochry anyway (one conveniently being the folder) and myself and my partner heading to Perth (which involved a mad climb of about 400m over few km South out of Kenmore, hail at the highest point, further deluges of rain, and occasional near-death experiences on the A822).

    As it turned out there was space for the bikes on the first available trains from Pitlochry and Perth and we then randomly ended up meeting again in Stirling for a non-bicycle bookable end to the journey. Another bike (and rider) arrived at the station as we were waiting for the Edinburgh train so there were five of us in total (but one foldable bike). A 3-4 carriage train arrived with only one horizontal '2 bike' rack, but that space was occupied by a double-pushchair. The odd cyclist out was travelling on from Edinburgh by train and after negotiating with the guard just got onto an empty non-bicycle vestibule. The remaining four of us hesitated as the guard was gesticulating that the train was about to go and myself and my partner (who had cycled further and were probably more desperate to get home by this point) made a mad dash for two other vestibules and we made it back without issue, albeit I had to manoeuvre my bike out of the way at Haymarket for a guy to gain access to his bag when getting off. My friends caught the next train, which apparently had at least two separate and completely empty bike racks.

    All in all a success, but not one that filled me with any confidence about taking several bikes on trains at the same time in the future without temporal buffering.

    Posted 3 years ago #
  29. I were right about that saddle
    Member

    When I coast to coasted last summer with a mate both the departure (Fort Bill) and arrival (Montrose) points were fully accesible by train.

    Train made sense, but....train would not allow carriage of trailers. At all.

    Wound up going to Fort Bill to hire a Transit for a day and cadging a lift back from Arbroath in an estate car.

    Posted 3 years ago #
  30. Darkerside
    Member

    I attempted to write a guide in 2012 on the various companies and how to get a bike on board:

    http://www.darkerside.org/2012/06/trainsandbike/

    Does require you to know which company you're travelling with, though.

    Posted 3 years ago #

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