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“If you want to get more people out of cars, you need to offer more”: Rail company slammed for banning bikes on trains at peak times, as cyclists brand policy “a step backwards”

“You need to look at how people get from door to door – the combination of bikes and trains is an ideal one,” a local cycling campaigner said

As hundreds of Bike Week events are taking place across Ireland, as part of a “celebration and promotion of the benefits of cycling” and an attempt to encourage more people to commute by bike, cyclists in Cork have hit out at Irish Rail’s “highly regrettable” decision to install new signs warning passengers that bikes are not permitted on trains during peak hours – a policy that represents “a step backwards” and “essentially eliminates the possibility of mixed-mode commuting”, according to campaigners.

This week, posters were spotted at Kent Station in Cork and in trains travelling along the Cobh to Midleton service advising rail users that bikes are not allowed on board before 10am and between 4pm and 7pm, Monday to Friday.

In a statement to the Irish Examiner, the operator of Ireland’s national railway network, Irish Rail, pointed out that the posters were installed to inform commuters of the company’s long-standing policy concerning cycles on trains, in place since 2011 when bikes were first permitted on trains and commuter services in Ireland.

Irish Rail also noted that the ban during peak hours is essential due to the “very heavy demand” for space on its trains – space, the company says, that would be reduced if bikes were permitted on board – and that the use of the network by cyclists during rush hour would spark “safety concerns”.

> Cyclist slams “pure discrimination against people on bikes” after being refused entry to ferry and left stranded – despite paying for motorcycle ticket

The railway operator’s spokesperson said that there was a degree of “opportunistic travel with bikes” at peak times during the Covid-19 pandemic, when more space was available on carriages.

“But we are at record demand now on Cork commuter routes,” the spokesperson said. “With the very heavy demand at peak times when standing capacity is needed, bicycles actually result in reducing capacity for people to take public transport and there are also safety concerns in terms of where they’re positioned and safe exit, and evacuation in emergency situations.

“So, the posters are simply to remind customers of the longstanding policy, and not a new policy.”

New or otherwise, the policy has come under fire from local cycling activists this week, with the Cork Cycling Campaign calling for the ban to be reviewed.

“This essentially eliminates the possibility of mixed-mode commuting by bike, which is highly regrettable,” the campaign’s spokesperson Kjeld van den Heuvel said.

“Observing this rule at Cork train station feels like a step backwards and deserves re-evaluation for our metropolitan area.”

> Doctor thrown off train because he hadn't reserved space for bike - even though there were four available

And speaking to Newstalk Breakfast, another Cork Cycling Campaign member, Stephen Koch, said they were “not happy as a cycling advocacy group about this decision”.

“Getting the bike on the train is an ideal combination to [enable you to] leave the car at home, cycle to the station, to have access from a bit further afield and then take you bike on the train and cycle to your final destination at your leisure without waiting for a bus or having to walk a long time,” Koch said.

The Cork-based cyclist added that he can “fully understand” the policy from Irish Rail’s perspective, but argued the company needs to adopt a broader outlook when it comes to allowing bikes on trains.

“If you want to get more people out of their cars – and that is the ultimate goal of a sustainable transport system – you need to offer more,” he said.

“You need to look at how people get from door to door. They don’t travel from station to station, they want to get from their home to their workplace or college or wherever they need to go. The combination of bikes and trains is an ideal one.”

Bike at Irish train station (The Wheels of Athenry, X)

> “Vertical bike storage is discriminatory and should be outright banned”: Rail engineer Gareth Dennis explains why taking your bike on the train is such a faff on the road.cc Podcast

Like rail expert Gareth Dennis, who told the road.cc Podcast last year that a radical step change in train capacity is needed to ensure adequate provision for people cycling and wheeling on the UK’s rail network, Koch also pointed out that increased capacity on commuter services represents the solution for enabling this combination of bikes and trains.

“I think in the first place, they just need to increase capacity and that is what they’re doing right now,” he said.

“I just saw a presentation the other day from a representative of Iarnród Éireann and it is just a bottleneck that they have. They would love to run longer trains, they would love to have the trains more frequently on the Middleton, Cobh, and Cork lines but they simply don’t have the fleet at peak times.

“So, they’re waiting for the arrival of their new battery electric fleet which, as I understand, is designed to take more bikes on board.”

In response to the criticisms from local cyclists, Irish Rail said that bikes are permitted on board outside of peak times, that fold-up bikes are permitted on trains at all times, and that a public cycle hire scheme is available at Cork’s Kent train station.

Irish minister Simon Coveney using cycle hire scheme at Cork Kent Station (Cork City Council)

Former Irish government minister Simon Coveney tries out the cycle hire scheme at Cork’s Kent Station (Cork City Council)

“We are the only major public transport operator in the country that facilitates bikes on all its vehicles, and we are also, in our station investments, incorporating enhanced bicycle parking facilities,” the Irish Rail spokesperson said.

“The TFI [Transport for Ireland] Bikes scheme also has an extensive facility at Kent Station, so at peak times there are extensive options for those who wish to cycle at either end of their rail journey, and at off-peak bikes can be carried on all commuter services.

“In terms of future trains, our new electric/battery-electric trains are designed with enhanced dedicated bike spaces, and in the future we would envisage, subject to investment in the necessary infrastructure, that these would operate on the Cork network.”

Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.

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9 comments

Avatar
mattw | 3 days ago
2 likes

I think, along with others judging by the comments, that the cycling group have the wrong end of this - in that the travel conditions are similat to everywhere else, including NL.

I think working towards a national secure system of inclusive cycle parking at all stations, and cycle tracks alongside railway lines where possible, may be more beneficial.

Or they could all buy Bromptons.

Avatar
A V Lowe | 4 days ago
3 likes

Been working with rail & bus operators for around 40 years, with a lot of data from systesm world-wide

Peak hour demand tends to self regulate anyway, and unless a major attraction typically cycle demand = 2-4% of seated capacity, and off peak counts are regularlyu reported as c.10% of passengers on train, whcih is 30-50% filled

I set up the DLR bikes plus the Edinburgh trams, and worked with Mersey Cyclists on new trains to improve on design - we get 3 bikes secured by bike weight into space replacing a pair of fixed seats with 2 tip-up/perch seats, using a cut back draught screen, plus the space behind the slop[ing seat backs

15 years ago did a report for Manchester, and finally they're considering bikes on trams, plus the early work with Tyne & Wear Metro sess the new trains with proper space to put bikes on board

With planning the TfL Overground units ran special trains for Ride London, carrying 150 bikes per train, and would love to find support to underwrite chartering trains to carrying 300 bikes & riders on a shuttle service out of Brighton after the big bike ride. Trains would shuttle to Three Bridges for dispersal as its almost downhill to the Thames following the River Mole. Others would spread ove more trains, or get collected by car from huge car parks around Gatwick

Much more to deliver - took me 20 years to eventually get cycle reservations of Citylink coach services across Scotland - started on National Express in 1996 but still waiting with them

Must revisit the folks with Iarnrod Eireann on this issue...
 

Avatar
wtjs | 4 days ago
2 likes

I'm putting in another recommendation for Merseyrail, which covers Southport to Chester.

Avatar
Secret_squirrel | 5 days ago
3 likes

Soo... a bit misleading then.   Full size bikes are banned at peak but folders arent.

So pretty much identical to every UK rail provider (and TFL) then?  (Leaving aside the ~4 token spaces on intercity services).

Avatar
KDee replied to Secret_squirrel | 5 days ago
4 likes

Also the same as NS here in the Netherlands. No full size bikes during peak hours, only folders (and they're supposed to meet a minimum dimension when fully folded).

Avatar
giff77 replied to KDee | 5 days ago
1 like

At least in the Netherlands parking your bike at the train station appears to be plentiful and requires a ticket to gain access. Compare that to various train stations across the U.K. that have nothing or possibly a couple of Sheffield Stands at the entrance. 

While NS have similar guidelines as to when bikes can be taken on board. They have though to the casual observer made provision for storage etc.

Meanwhile in the U.K. and Ireland the various authorities and providers tend to be shortsighted and lack vision.  This has even been shown in the rebuild of York Street Station in Belfast where secure parking is provided but the infra to the station doesn't exist.

*The various train providers could easily reintroduce the baggage car on their stock to deal with volumes.

*Provide adequate and secure parking. This could utilise the old baggage rooms at stations. 

*Incorporate free bike hire with the ticket.

 

Avatar
KDee replied to giff77 | 4 days ago
3 likes

A ticket is not required to access most station bike parking. I'm actually trying to think of anywhere I know here where that exists. A lot of stations have staffed bike parking though. Unfortunately not all, and that does mean at some stations bike theft is an issue. 

Avatar
Oldfatgit replied to Secret_squirrel | 4 days ago
6 likes

ScotRail appears to have no policy on travelling with a full size bike in rush hour.
I've never had a problem with my ebike in rush-hour and I've even had conductors clear people off the folding seats on the 1717 from Glasgow Queen Street to Edinburgh - which was a surprise  1

Avatar
ktache replied to Oldfatgit | 4 days ago
1 like

The GWR Reading to Gatwick line has no restrictions, which has meant I could commute bike train bike Farnborough to Reading for two and a bit years and Reading to Farnborough for the past six out of seven.

SWT Basingstoke to Waterloo only restricts full size bikes into London in the morning and out of London in the evening.

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