Bikes on trains: a ridiculous situation

Tuesday 8 July 2014 09.16 AM

Last week me and a friend cycled up to Yorkshire – a few days ahead of le Tour. We spent three days covering the 280 miles from London to Whitby, and it was great except for (a) the weather and (b) the difficulty getting home again on the train.

Last week me and a friend cycled up to Yorkshire – a few days ahead of le Tour. We spent three days covering the 280 miles from London to Whitby, and it was great except for (a) the weather and (b) the difficulty getting home again on the train.

We’re waiting for our East Coast train at Northallerton. I decide to try to find out which end we’re boarding, and then to my dismay see various forum posts about needing a reservation for bikes otherwise they won’t let you on. Sure enough, when the train arrives the guard won’t let us on, even though he has an entirely empty carriage for bikes. He says the reservation is a legal requirement (which isn’t true).

I bought the tickets back in April and, as with all cheap advance tickets, they are valid for that train and that train only. And therefore now worthless. We end up waiting two hours for the next train and paying £60 each for the privilege (a shorter wait would have meant almost twice the price). The train that eventually got us home was operated by Grand Central – who, unlike East Coast, don’t require bike reservations.

Of course I should have realised reservations were required in the first place. But when you book tickets online, they don't exactly make it obvious: there is a TINY little tab down at the bottom that says “bicycle space”. For whatever reason I didn’t see it. I wasn’t looking for it - I’ve taken my bike on a few trains in the past and never had to reserve a space. And as mentioned above, certain other train operators don’t require them for the same route (what’s that all about?).

It just seems ridiculous to me. And also to people who work on the trains. On a recent train trip, with bike, a sympathetic ticket inspector told me he thought the situation was completely unfair. On that train, and most local services, it’s a first-come-first-served system: you cannot reserve a place for your bike, and if you turn up and the two (only two!) bike spaces are being used, then tough luck. You’ll have to get the next train, or leave your bike behind. And if you have an advance ticket you’ll almost definitely have to bin it and buy a new one.

Train companies should be encouraging people to bring their bikes onto trains, not penalising them. Of course there are space issues, and of course you can’t have people bringing bikes onto crowded commuter trains. But inter-city is a different matter. They need to sort it out.

Search site