• Back on track?: Bike carriage on long-distance train services
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  • 24.04.2013


Communications Officer at ECF since ever

Bicycle and Copenhagen S Train 2Last week we presented our latest position paper on Bike & Trains to the major European railway companies.  The paper brings together best practices from around Europe and aims to highlight the 7 basic services that all cycle tourists appreciate when trying to travel to and from their holiday destinations.

We all know that cycle tourism is a booming sector but surprisingly it is one that the rail industry has not gone out of its way to encourage.   The ECF published a position paper last April entitled ‘Bike and Train: A European Odyssey’, which was critical of both the rail industry’s approach towards bicycle carriage on long-distance rail services and the European legislation on the topic.  We argued that the relevant Regulation (ECF 1371/2007) gave railways companies far too much wriggle room to get out of having to cater for cyclists and had not improved the carriage of bicycles on trains since its introduction.  Partly as a consequence of this weak legislation but also due to the rail industry’s concentration on the business end of the long-distance market at the expense of other users, we concluded that the services offered were insufficient in terms of quality and quantity and – to make things worse – overall trends were pointing in the wrong direction.  

The Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies (CER) holds a Customer Liaison Group Meeting twice a year, which is typically attended by representatives of companies such as DB, SNCF, SNCB, FSI and RENFE as well as other passenger groups.  For the latest meeting, the ECF were asked to present recent developments with regards to EuroVelo, the European cycle route network, and our view on the carriage of bicycles on long-distance rail services.

Fortunately the situation has improved over the past 12 months and Ed was able to report that the next generation of IC trains in Germany will have spaces for 8 bikes and that the refurbished Railjet trains in Austria will allow for the carriage of 6 bikes and include charging points for electric bikes.  As Ed commented: “There’s a still lot to be done but at least we are starting to move in the right direction now.” 

Moreover, a recent review of the passenger’s rights Regulation undertaken by a consultancy employed by the European Commission agreed with our view that the wording of the existing legislation is so woolly that it does not make a difference.  It challenged the Commission to either give it some teeth or take it out.

Of course it will take time for the legislation to change and so in the meantime the ECF is keen to work with the rail operators to develop services designed for European citizens that want to take advantage of the many benefits of combining bike and train.   Ed explained “We see this as being mutually beneficial: for cycle tourists it is more convenient to use trains and it allows them to choose a sustainable travel option.  For the rail operators, they get new customers from a growing sector of the tourism market and it can help to ‘green’ their image.”          

“During the presentation we identified the 7 basic services that will remove barriers for people who want to combine the two modes of transport.” 

The seven points being: cycle carriage on all trains; accurate information (online, in the station and on the train); accessibility; consistent pricing; reservations; bike parking at stations; and connections to cycle hire schemes.

We wanted to encourage the rail operators to help make it easier to take your bike on holiday and therefore we showed examples of good practice related to each point taken from across Europe.”

The presentation was well received and the ECF have been asked to present again its position and recommendations to an even larger audience of rail companies later in the year.  

The ECF’s position papers on bike and train can be viewed here:


About the Author

Ed Lancaster, ECF Policy Officer forRegional Policy & Cycling Tourism -For the past 7 years, Ed has worked as a Town Planner for various local authorities in South East England and he has a Master’s degree in Town Planning from the University of Westminster. In his last role he was responsible for transport policies and strategy, as well as managing numerous cycling-related projects (e.g. providing new cycle infrastructure and running promotional activities).

  • Dave Holladay

    Ed – I have to disagree with the comment about bagged bikes in the paper you presented – this is almost the most common way that sport cyclists transport their bikes, and generally the way that bikes are carried by air and by coach services. It also gets bike carried on services and vehicles which would otherwise be unavailable to assembled machines. Only perhaps where bikes are used as a Class 1 Invalid Carriage (UK legislation) and provide a mobility aid to those who would otherwise be unable to travel independently does the clear need to insist on getting assembled cycles carried, make a strong case for space, and that space provided for Persons with Reduced Mobility (PRM) should legitimately be available for such machines.

    For many in the UK the bike in a bag was also the most convenient way to use Eurostar with a bike, with that operator aligning with the standard of a 120cm x 90cm size limit on cases, and having just 8 reservable bike spaces, provided through the baggage concession Eurodespatch (Geoparts – Paris/SNCB?- Brussel). These services required extra time to use, and currently cost £25-£30 per trip, and limited to trips between London, Paris and Brussel. As of this week the size limit has been reduced to 85cm x 85cm and bagged bike users have been offered the concession of being able to use the baggage service for £10/€15 per bike. As I understand things, those with a connection at Lille can book their bagged bike to Lille and collect it from the staff unloading the baggage van, retaining that facility, albeit with time and convenience penalties. As the baggage registration facility is not available, bikes in bags up to 120cm x 90cm will continue to be carried on the seasonal services to Avignon, Provence and the French Alps, and the website notes that such luggage is generally carried on onward connecting services, highlighting the detail that Eurostar is out of step with the generally accepted standards for other rail operators.

    Delivery of a basic standard for bagged bikes (and even luggage) across Europe might be something to progress with rail and coach operators. The Eurostar change seems to even be out of synch which the UK domestic standards which set 90cm x 70cm as the size limits for suitcases. (reduced from 1m x 1m about 10 years ago)

    The brighter side comes from the fact that it might actually show Eurostar and others the scale of business they are turning away. In 2007 the whole system for accepting assembled bikes was overhauled and a guaranteed your bike on your train service promoted. Within 3 years the number of bikes booked in a year had risen by 1000%, and we know that many others were taking bike in large bike bags as carry-on luggage – several notable figures in UK cycling have voiced their annoyance at the current move, and one might expect a surge in £10 booked bikes in bags to reflect this.

    However we also have a number of cycle tour operators returning to flying simply because the rail operator (especially Eurostar) makes the booking of a group & bikes so difficult. In one case the group had to travel on consecutive days (through the limitations of the 8 bike spaces and the onward connections) and the group ticket discounts (ie for a party of 10 or more) were not available for a party of 16 – although on DB (and others?) the system permits the group booking to be split over more than one service.

    It does lead me to look forward to the earliest possible start of DB and other services coming in to London, as a recent trip proved such a nightmare to work out as a basic rail itinerary (with 5-6 hours waiting between trains in a small German or French towns) that I flew to Frankfurt instead, and still had a long wait (6 hours) but in a place with some things to do and comfortable places to wait. A late departure from London would deliver a great way to be on the doorstep of your host/client for the start of the working day, without the big hole of waiting half-way there, and with your bike as well.

    • Ed Lancaster

      Thank you Dave. You have raised some interesting points. With regards to bike bags on long distance rail services, we have stated that it is a ‘second best’ option in our paper and it is certainly preferable to not being able to take you bike on at
      all. However, if we want to get more people combining bikes and long distance trains then we need to make it as easy as possible for them and the most straight-forward way of doing it is to be able to carry or, even better, wheel it straight on. As soon as you require people to use special bags or to dismantle their bikes then it is inevitably going to put some people off.

      We will see if we can incorporate your comment about group bookings into our paper.

Last Updated April 24, 2013