The Amtrak Vermonter, the line running between St. Albans, Vermont, and Washington, D.C., will offer limited carry-on bike service starting May 1.
"I think this is a really great thing," said cyclist Andy Witt of Essex Junction, as he boarded the Vermonter Friday during a preview of the new service.
The offering is the first of its kind in the Northeast. The Vermonter operates daily between D.C. and St. Albans, with service to other major cities including Philadelphia and New York City.
"We look forward to offering this service," said Deb Sanderson of Amtrak. "And working with other states in the future to expand this type of service."
For many years, bicyclists have been able to bring their bikes on the line, but they have had to do so as luggage, which required an extra step. Advocates have long wanted state transportation officials to seek more bike access to trains, with a goal of linking modes of transportation to facilitate travel, both for pleasure and commuting.
The new program, which sees racks in the coach cars for bikes to hang on once the front tire is removed, gives cyclists easy roll-on access. Once passengers arrive at their stop, the racks are designed to allow for a quicker departure for riders than obtaining bikes from luggage storage would have.
"What we're seeing here is the pressure of demand, the enthusiasm, for really connecting bikes to the transportation network," said Emily Boedecker of Local Motion, a Burlington non-profit that promotes bicycling and other outdoor activities.
The travel-dependent state hopes the move boosts Vermont's reputation as a summer destination, where the train can expand cyclists' tours.
"This is going to absolutely grow tourism," said Megan Smith, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing, noting how the state has been working to convince travelers it is a nice place to visit in the summer, and not just during the fall foliage and winter ski seasons.
The route of the Amtrak Vermonter plays to the state's strengths, Smith added.
"Those are our regular visitors, the people who come up from New York and Philly, all along that line," she explained. "And this just gives them another reason to come."
However, for now, there are only a handful of the new bike racks. By next month, there will be racks to accommodate four bikes at a time, for both north and southbound travel, the Vermont Agency of Transportation said.
"I think the demand is going to be much higher, especially for a recreation destination like Vermont," said Chris Cole, the secretary of the Vermont Agency of Transportation.
During a pilot period for the service, Cole said his team and Amtrak will work together to figure out what the number of bike racks should be, depending on demand. He said he also wants to know where along the rail corridor the greatest interest in the offering will be.
Reservations are required and passengers with bikes must have a special ticket, the Vermont Agency of Transportation said. An "add bike" option is available while booking on Amtrak.com or by calling 800-USA-RAIL, the agency added.
The bicycle reservation fee is $10 for service between New Haven, Connecticut, and St. Albans, Vermont, and is $20 for service between Washington, D.C. and New Haven, according to state transportation officials.
Passengers traveling with their bikes must arrive at the station 30 minutes prior to the train departure to allow time for boarding, Amtrak wrote in a media release. Train cars with the new bike racks will carry "bike-friendly" stickers, Amtrak said.
Off the train and back on his bike, Andy Witt called the option well worth it, for how much more exploring he can now do. "It was awesome," he told necn.