Bikes on Trains – Update – March 2015

Provision for bikes on trains in our area is not good. Although there is no charge or requirement to pre-book, there are nominally only two spaces available for bikes on services run by Northern Rail. The train guards may allow more than this, but there is no obligation to do so and it is likely that bikes in aisles and vestibules will be inconvenient for other passengers. As for tandems, forget it, unless you are travelling by Grand Central to London where there is space behind the engine.

This situation compares most unfavourably with that on continental Europe, where most local and regional train services in France, Belgium and Germany have provision for 6 or even more bikes.

When challenged on this point most rail operators provide a variety of excuses, but at the end of the day the reality is that under the current rail franchising arrangements the operators are under no obligation to provide space for additional bikes on trains. To be fair to Northern Rail, they have established a Cycle Forum and have provided bikes at stations (the red Bike and Go bikes at Halifax / Hebden Bridge / Todmorden / Bradford) but bikes on trains is an elephant in the room.

Some hope might be found in the current franchising process, which will govern the operation of trains in our area from Spring 2016. As part of the franchise process, the Government have indicated that “provision of additional bike carrying capacity” will be a factor that is taken into account as part of the award of the successful tender. Whilst that is a long way off there being a specific requirement e.g that each train shall provide X bike spaces (the expectation being that X would be greater than 2) it does give the operators tendering for the new service the opportunity to differentiate their bid by offering to provide additional spaces for bikes.

Part of the problem is that the operators generally lease the rolling stock (“carriages”) and they effectively have to take what they are given. No new diesel units are currently being built because the priority is meeting the needs of electrified lines. So any “new” provision in our area will almost certainly be diesel stock cascaded down from recently electrified lines e.g the Leeds – Huddersfield – Manchester route or (this is true) refurbished stock from the London Underground.

This is a great shame given that at least one of the train leasing companies, Angel Trains, has produced designs for the modification of existing diesel stock to include provision for 6 bikes. There is also an irony in that the “Pacer” units so unbeloved of passengers and politicians do actually have provision for 4 bikes – and the author has seen as many as 7 in the “guards van” section of a Pacer. But Pacers are to be phased out as they do not meet current disability legislation.

For those with an interest a link is provided here to the Northern Rail Cycle Forum, which is attended by local cycle campaigners and meets 3 or 4 times a year to discuss issues relating to bikes and trains.

At local and national level CTC will continue to press for improvements to the current inadequate provision, so that commuter, leisure and touring cyclists can benefit from the ability to put their bikes into dedicated spaces on all train services in our area.

See here for link to Northern Rail Forum

Reid Anderson

Right to Ride, Calderdale.