My bike Polly (Pollination) has a difficult relationship with trains. It’s one of those relationships that should work, but when you live it, it just doesn’t. Bikes are technically allowed on trains, but all is not well amongst our many rail companies. Every rail company has a different policy regarding bikes – some require an advance reservation, some it’s turn up and see, some railways stations do not allow you to board trains with bikes at all, and none of them let you book your bike in online or necessarily tell you these things.
First Great Western usually has a separate luggage carriage where bikes are strapped in, and the station staff are sometimes helpful and tell you where to stand. However, the seat reservation was for a carriage at the other end of the train, leaving you not enough time to run down the platform to get back to your bike. With other rail companies you may need to strap it into a specific area or just hold it in the doorway. You may be treated as a nuisance or menace by railway staff and other passengers, or you may not be able to travel at all if there is not enough space for your bike.
It took two and a half hours to book my return ticket from Edinburgh with Virgin West and then East. Nearly 50 minutes of which was spent on hold. One company can not see the train times or bike spaces of another, and overarching companies like trainline.com can not see bike spaces at all. So on a standard journey you may go through several train companies, each of which you will have to call separately to book your bike space, having already booked your ticket.
If we want people to cycle, we need a joined up public transport system which allows them to transport their bikes. Here’s my suggestion of a vision of the future. One publicly owned railway system where you book your bike in online at the same time as you book your ticket, into a designated bike carriage. Those travelling with bikes sit in the carriage with their bikes. Amble space for bikes and luggage, and sufficient time for loading and unloading. And to complete the logic, bike racks on the front of buses.
We were a nation of railway builders, engineers and logistics organisers. We can make it possible to transport a few bikes.