James Daley: The Cycling Column

It's about time the train took the bike strain
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Indy Lifestyle Online

TAKING YOUR bike on the train is still not nearly as easy as it should be. Although most train companies now allow bikes to be carried at certain times of the day, cycles still tend to be banned at peak hours, and are granted only a very limited space on services where they are permitted.

Admittedly, the facilities on some of the latest rolling stock are impressive. For example, metal wheel grates and straps are now usually provided, holding your bike in place and ensuring that it doesn't go flying around the carriage when the train comes to a halt.

The problem, however, is that these fancy new facilities are usually able to accommodate no more than one or two bikes. And if you don't manage to get one of the spaces, you're more likely to get kicked off than you would have been in the days when there was no accommodation for bikes whatsoever - and you just had to make do by standing in the train doorway (if there was no guard's van).

Fifteen or 20 years ago, the facilities were certainly much more primitive. However, on the London to Brighton line, which I regularly took my bike on, there was always an entire carriage given over to storing bikes and other larger items.

There might not have been fancy metal wheel grates, but there was room to store at least 20 bikes in these sections of the train. Today, there is room for only a few bikes on the Brighton line - and I imagine the same is true of many other routes up and down the country.

This summer, the Government will publish a White Paper mapping out the future regulations for British train companies - the perfect opportunity for it to legislate to improve facilities for cyclists on trains. The cycling lobbying body, the CTC, has launched a campaign to try to ensure the opportunity is not wasted, and has even set up a facility on its website to help cyclists put pressure on their local MP (www.ctc.org.uk).

The CTC is making seven rather modest demands - effectively aiming to ensure that all trains have some facilities for carrying bikes, and that stations have adequate storage facilities.

However, I'd like to see the train companies forced to go much further. Ultimately, cyclists should be able to take their bikes on trains at all times of the day - particularly during peak hours. Given that the Government has recently invested in an advertising campaign highlighting the power of cycling in the battle against climate change, surely it should be doing everything it can to facilitate cycling for commuters.

Furthermore, train companies should be forced to provide space for at least 10 bikes on each of their trains. My concern is that many train companies feel they have done their bit for cyclists, by providing state of the art facilities. But providing space for two bikes on each train simply isn't enough.

Obviously, such rules need to be implemented in a sensible way. It doesn't make sense to allow six cyclists to get on a train at the expense of 20 other commuters. But with a little bit of lateral thinking, train companies could surely provide ample storage facilities for bikes, without taking up any space for regular foot passengers. Providing bike racks on the side or back of the train is one potential solution. At the very least, the companies could find a more space-efficient way of accommodating bikes inside the carriage.

Thankfully, most trains do at least allow folding bikes on board without making too much of a fuss. But when it comes to regular bikes, there's still much more they could do.

For more information about individual train companies' attitudes towards cyclists, visit A to B magazine's useful website at www.atob.org.uk/Bike_Rail.html

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