Off the rails?

UK govt displays tunnel vision over bike-train commuting

There may be some light at the end of the tunnel for UK cyclists sick of being chucked off trains for “taking up too much room”.

People who commute by bike but make part of their journey by rail have long complained about a lack of space both on trains, and for locking up at stations.

And there are inconsistencies between rail companies over getting bikes on board. Some are happy to take bikes without reservations. Some are not. Even within franchises the whims of guards means that, particularly on small two-carriage trains, riders can never be sure whether or not they’ll make their connection.

Now the UK Government has promised improvements. It has published a White Paper – essentially a consultation on proposed legislation – aimed at revitalising the country’s rail network over the next 30 years. It promises something long overdue – a better deal for cyclists. There will even be a special task force aimed at getting cycling-rail improvements.

However, it’s not all good news.

The Government pledge in the White Paper to buy 1,300 new rail carriages sound more positive, but the document also states that operators should be able to ban bikes from peak services. Which, of course, is when bike commuters want to use them.

While folding bikes will be allowed at all times, for no extra charge, train firms will be allowed to ban standard bikes as they see fit. Advanced reservations for bikes will be required where there is limited space and operators may charge a “reasonable fare” for that reservation.

And there will continue to be inconsistencies across the country, as the Government believes a national set of rules would be too restrictive, leaving the fine print up to rail operators.

On the bright side, train companies will be required to indicate whether or not bikes are permitted on the timetable itself, and to enable passengers to buy tickets and make bike reservations at the same time. Reservations, once booked, will have to guarantee spaces for bikes.

The new task force announced in the White Paper will represent cyclists during franchise agreements. It will comprise train firm umbrella group ATOC, Cycling England, Network Rail and rail watchdog Passenger Focus. The task force will focus on improving stations for cyclists, and work to find effective ways to increase the number of people who combine cycling with rail travel.

The CTC, the UK’s largest cycling group, has welcomed the plan, following its own ‘Keep cycling on track’ campaign. However, it’s not counting its chickens yet, and is urging the Government to ensure the task force is given enough money and power to make a real difference.

CTC campaigns and policy manager Roger Geffen said: “It’s great to see the Government listening to cyclists, and trying to improve cycle-rail. It’s an outcome we could only have seen with the help of the thousands of cyclists who joined our campaign.

“But the task force will only be effective if it has some real input into the railways. The Government needs to make sure this task force is well funded and has some serious bite to go with its bark.”

To read more about the White Paper, called Delivering A Sustainable Railway, go to the Department for Transport’s website.

For more on the ‘Keep cycling on track’ campaign, see the CTC's website.

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