Train-ing ride: River Relay cyclists navigate Amtrak and commuter rail with bikes

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Wayne Clark began his trip with an early morning ride on Washington D.C.'s Metro. Bikes are allowed on the city's subway trains before rush hour.

A transportation planner or other such professional would call Wayne Clark and Eric Brenner's recent bike trip “multi-modal.” In layman’s terms, let’s just say the two men were thrilled to travel from their homes in Maryland to Philadelphia, then ride their bikes back south to Fredericksburg, Virginia, and get back home without ever having to drive a car.

Clark and Brenner served as core cyclists on the Philly-to-Virginia leg of the East Coast River Relay. Clark is a member of the East Coast Greenway Alliance’s Advisory Board and Brenner chairs our Washington D.C. Committee. They’re both experienced road cyclists with many thousands of miles on their odometers. But this was Clark’s first time traveling with his bike on so many kinds of trains: subway, Amtrak, and commuter rail.

To get to Philadelphia, “I got up and rode my bike to the metro station early. Bikes aren’t allowed during official rush hour,” Clark says. He was carrying two packed rear panniers and a bag for his rear rack. He carried his bike up the escalator at Washington, DC’s Union Station and and met Brenner in the central hall, where they waited for the 8:15 am Vermonter — an Amtrak line that allows you to carry your bicycle on board. Passengers purchase an additional reservation fee ($20/bike for this trip) to load their bike on designated racks on the train. 

Read more about Amtrak's carry-on bicycle service

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Mid-Atlantic Greenway Coordinator Daniel Paschall (left) greets Wayne Clark (center) and Eric Brenner in the Philadephia Amtrak station, fresh off their train from Washington, D.C.

A 40-minute delay created more of a crush for boarding and exiting their train, Clark says, and they had to split up because they found only one bike rack per train car. “So here’s these two old guys with bikes and panniers getting in people’s way, and they were all in a rush. The hanging mechanism isn’t intuitive, it doesn’t look like a hook, and the car was dark so I had to feel around a bit,” he says. “I took my front wheel off, but Eric didn’t bother with that.”

Exiting the train with a bike takes a bit of practice too, Clark says. “To get off the train you have to walk down these narrow aisles and then make 90-degree turns onto an even narrower hallway. Here I am standing in this little tiny exit area of the train with my bike, my front wheel, and three bags,” he laughs. “I got all my stuff off and onto the platform and heaved a sigh of relief.”

The cyclists biked the Greenway for six days, 345 miles of connecting the route between River Relay events. Their ride offered the full mix of the East Coast Greenway, from beautiful off-road trails to grittier urban and suburban streets.

“Our most pleasant ride was from Baltimore to Annapolis, it’s all on a beautiful, highly used trail with a lot of facilities,” Clark says. The end of that day, not so much: Their hotel for the night was located in suburban sprawl outside of Annapolis, requiring the cyclists to navigate around highways.

At the end of the trip, the cyclists’ hotel was just two blocks from the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) commuter rail station in Fredericksburg, Virginia. VRE trains are very accommodating to bicycles, Clark says. “You get on at the southern end of the northernmost car, where there’s folding seats that can be raised to allow for bikes. I tied them with a bungee -- we knew in advance we needed that -- while Eric stashed our bags on the luggage rack.”

Gaining comfort with traveling on trains with a bike has whetted Clark’s appetite for more.

“Oh yeah, I’m going back,” he says. “Next time I’m going to take the train all the way to Vermont and ride home.”


Wayne Clark’s tips for traveling on Amtrak with your bike:

The East Coast Greenway Alliance is a member of the Amtrak Bicycle Task Force along with Adventure Cycling Association and League of American Bicyclists and others working to improve and expand the experience of traveling on trains with bikes. Read more about those efforts

Read more of our October newsletter, On the Greenway

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Wayne Clark and Eric Brenner's bikes rest on a Virginia Railway Express commuter train back to Washington, D.C., from Fredericksburg, Virginia, at the end of the cyclists' East Coast River Relay leg.
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