Cycles and Trains

Cycles and trains should be perfect companions for car free travel but there can be problems as shown by a number of FixMyTransport campaigns.

Cycle parking at stations is often inadequate as shown in the strongly supported campaign for more cycle parking at Cambridge Station. The good news for Cambridge is that is was one of 68 places to receive recent funding to improve cycle facilities covering a mixture of cycle parking and cycle hire schemes.

Cycle parking is something which will require continued campaigning at local and national level, and this is where FixMyTransport can be valuable for gathering support and exchanging ideas.

Passengers can also find taking their cycles on trains to be a frustrating experience due to complex rules which vary from company to company and the need to limit the number of cycles on many services. Extra carriages are very costly so it is never going to be possible to cater for an unrestricted number of cycles.

For example FixMyTransport users report problems booking cycles on trains and rules which sometimes appear to be too restrictive.

Before taking a cycle on a train it is important to check the rules. National Rail Enquiries has a page of information for cyclists, including a link under “More information” to download the National Rail Cycling by Train leaflet.

In general folding cycles are always allowed on trains, whereas non-folding cycles are often restricted to a limited number per train, can require pre-booking, or can be banned completely.


  1. Peter Mount says:

    One additional thing to remember is that during the Olympics there’s additional restrictions which vary by each operator.

    For example Southeastern are limiting only compact folding cycles during the games. Southern have gone further with the restrictions being constant until September.

    What compact means is open to interpretation.

  2. paulhollinghurst says:


    Thanks for your comment. Vague and difficult to find information is just the sort of thing which causes problems.

    National Rail Enquiries (which many people will use to plan journeys) makes no mention of these temporary changes.
    I did find it on South Eastern’s website:
    “So during the London 2012 Games only compact folded cycles can be carried on our services into and out of London at all times. Conventional (non-folding) cycles may not be carried.”

    As you mention, compact is vague. Also what exactly is meant by ‘services into London’; which stations are covered by this restriction?


  3. Dave Holladay says:

    Cycle reservations have been a bodged fix of the ticket software system for around 2 decades. Up to the disasterous upgrade of 2004 or 05, which had a shut down over the Christmas holiday and than a crash which meant that even by May bank Holiday it was impossible to reserve seats, cycles or most advance purchase tickets. You could make bike reservations in line with the old Trainline/QJump suite, that vanished and in its place came hotel reservations and car hire. The mismatched systems were highlighted by a long standing issue where the Network Rail weekly timetable upload (usually for 13 weeks ahead) could not be automatically transcribed into the National Rail enquiry and ticket sales system – they had not been developed as an integrated system with this incorporated. The debacle of the upgrade meltdown will make the industry very nervous about an end-on switch over in the future.

    Now we have the evolved Trainline, Raileasy, and IMO the best system Mixingdeck (used by East Coast and Southern). Mixingdeck allows you to register and set your own personal preference requirements, including Assisted Travel, and Cycle Reservations on Line, for every occasion when you book tickets. East Coast also very generously waive the commission, that they would be paying themselves when selling East Coast Only fares, and give you a 10% discount, on East Coast Only tickets.

    But on to the bodge – the ticketing system has rules, one of which says only one seat reservation per journey BUT to have reserveable bike spaces the fix was to create a virtual coach in which the ‘seats’ are bike spaces, and of course having 2 seat reservations is against the rules for the system, so that making a bike reservation requires an ‘illegal’ transaction being forced through. It really gets good for the overnight seated train between London and Fort William which requires 4 seat reservations to get a seat and a bike from one end to the other. This can only be booked by phone or at a counter with Scotrail staff who have been trained in how to break the system rules.

    Train operators pay for features in their ticketing suite, so those like c2c who run only local trains don’t pay the extra for a seat reservation facility – only half the TOC’s have seat reservations, and some only have this on their long distance routes, so if the TOC has no seat reservations there are no bike reservations.

    A few small glimmers – bike commuters on Caltrain have set up a bot which tweets information on bike spaces available on each train, so that when the 80 spaces per train are getting over subscribed, users can catch a later train or park the bike before boarding. Cross Country in the UK now offers an SMS/iphone service to check for and book seats in real time, up to 10 minutes before the train arrives, and Virgin’s trains have the option of uploading reservations at times other than the start of the journey. Since bike reservations are seat reservations the implication is that you could make a reservation from the platform once you know which train you’d like to catch.

    Cross Country policy on cycle carriage also seems fairer and more sensible than that which seems to be the official line from East Coast and Virgin, and fits with similar but less publicised positions from First Scotrail, TPE, and GW, and also SW and EM Trains, and Greater Anglia but a slightly less open line reported from Arriva TW.

    It is interesting to reflect on the comment from the BR commercial manager in 1977 when cycle fares were abolished, and cyclists welcomed aboard to fill up the van space vacated by the sectorisation of parcels and passenger traffic onto 2 separate trains (since the parcels side could not agree to paying for the often empty space being dragged around on passenger trains for them). The scheme was so successful that it was the best commercial action taken that year.

    Bikes on trains are still a strong commercial benefit, especially filling the commuter trains outside the peak hours, you may well be surprised to find that on a quiet train, cycle users can provide between 10% and 20% of the total number of passengers – on a regular basis, and on one reverse commute service cyclists regularly deliver 40-50% of the passenger load – with their bikes.

    So a poll to finish with – what opinions on these options?

    1) should tickets be issued for every bike on train journey, so that all of these can be recorded and associated with ticket sales?

    2) should bike bans be abolished and instead of a policing regime a pricing one for peak time travel is introduced. Bikes carried free, when there is space and it boosts revenue, but charged for if passengers are displaced.

    3) like a sleeper berth or seat reservation, a bike reservation ensures you can get on the train but if you turn up and space is available you can use it

  4. Paul Hollinghurst says:


    Thanks for the reply and the background information to some of the cycling problems, especially relating to the booking system and recent improvements.

    Regarding your options at the end, I guess one issue is that there are some different situations, so I would say the answers may be different on each type of service. Where there is a need to limit the number of cycles I would go for (3). I wouldn’t introduce more tickets as this would just add complexity so would tend not to vote for (1) – if the industry needs to work out how many cyclists are using the train then it should do surveys. (2) would allow extra investment in cycle space to be justified so I can see the idea behind this, but I suspect cyclists would prefer to keep a free service and put up with the downsides.

    I would say trains could be broadly classified into 3 ‘cycle’ types:
    [A] Trains with a reasonable amount of cycle capacity (e.g. multiple units with sliding doors towards the middle of the carriage) where it is highly unlikely they will fill up (my train to work – a journey against the main commuter flow)
    [B] Trains with a reasonable amount of capacity, but which are so busy with passengers and cycles that it would be unsafe of uncomfortable to let everyone on. (e.g. Peak services into London)
    [C] Trains with little capacity – e.g. most long distance services, and multiple units with door in end vestibules.

    I would say for [A] and [B] it is best to just have a rule and not tickets or reservations; all cycles allowed on [A], folding cycles only on [B].
    For [C] I would say use what you said in your final suggestion “like a sleeper berth or seat reservation, a bike reservation ensures you can get on the train but if you turn up and space is available you can use it”