Saturday, August 28, 2010
By Larry Walsh
My first experience with roll-on/roll-off train service occurred in the late 1990s on the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad which runs from Cumberland to Frostburg, a 16-mile trip.
I had pedaled a steel Bianchi mountain bike on alternate sides of the railroad tracks from Frostburg to Cumberland. It was a bumpy ride, thanks to all the ballast. What is now a smooth ride on a crushed limestone surface trail was years away.
When I arrived in Cumberland, I had breakfast at the All Aboard Café in the renovated red brick railway station, rode around Cumberland for a few hours and caught the 11:30 train back to Frostburg.
After buying my ticket, I rolled the bike over to the baggage car and lifted it up from the platform to John Jeppi, the conductor. I used bungee cords to secure it to the interior of the car. When we got to Frostburg, Jeppi rolled it over to the door and handed it down. No muss, no fuss.
The Allegheny Trail Alliance and the Trail Town Program have asked Amtrak officials to approve roll-on/roll-off service along the railroad’s Capitol route from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C. And they would like all members of the bicycling community to help make that request a reality.
Roll-on/roll-off service allows cyclists to transport their bikes on and off the train without turning the handlebars sideways, taking the pedals off and putting them in boxes.
The alliance also has asked Amtrak to include roll-on/roll-off service to trail towns it does not currently service.
To accomplish those goals, they are asking cyclists to write letters to Joseph H. Boardman, president and chief executive officer of Amtrak, National Railroad Passenger Corp., 60 Massachusetts Ave., NE, Washington, D.C., 20002. The railroad prefers hard copies rather than e-mails.
They also ask that copies of those letters be sent to Ray LaHood, secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, 1200 New Jersey Ave., SE, Washington, D.C., 20590; and to the alliance at PO Box 501, Latrobe, Pa., 15650 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Time is of the essence.
If enough cyclists write enough letters as soon as possible — and now would be a good time to do so — roll-on/roll-off service along the Capitol Limited could be in place by next spring.
It might be possible, for example, to ride the train from Pittsburgh to Connellsville, bike 90 miles to Cumberland, Md., along the Great Allegheny Passage and catch the train back to Pittsburgh. The Capitol Limited stops in those towns.
Rockwood, about halfway between Connellsville and Cumberland, has asked Amtrak to approve a stop in their bike-friendly southern Somerset County town. If approved, the stop would serve bicyclists in the spring, summer and fall and snow sports enthusiasts during the winter.
Hidden Valley and Seven Springs, which maintain miles of mountain-bike trails, are only 15 miles away. And each resort has expressed interest in providing roundtrip shuttle-bus service to Rockwood if it becomes an Amtrak stop.
Depending on snow conditions, cross-country skiers and snowshoers arriving by Amtrak could stay overnight in Rockwood and ski or shoe on the passage. If there is not enough snow, they could go to the resorts and/or nearby state parks such as Laurel Ridge and Kooser.
If you would like some suggestions about what to include in your letter, go to www.GAPtrail.org.
For more information about the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad, go to www.wmsr.com or call 1-800-872-4650.
Although there was no bike fee on my first roll-on/roll-off trip, the railroad now charges $5. Advance reservations are encouraged. The railroad now transports up to 60 bikes a day.
You might want to include that information in your letters.
Larry Walsh writes about recreational bicycling for the Post-Gazette.