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Bikes and trains can mix, and the combination provides a uniquely green way of getting from A to B. That's the message from train operators Anglia Railways, who recently launched a Cycles on Trains initiative, providing space for at least four cycles on all of their local trains.
In the boldest train conversion scheme to date, the company have removed six seats, installing vertical racks for four bicycles on one side of the carriage, leaving the other side free of obstructions to ease manoeuvring and allow space for at least one other cycle. Conversion of all 16 of the Anglia Sprinters cost £200,000, with funding coming from a variety of sources, including the Rural Development Commission, and the Government's Cycle Challenge Initiative.
The new racks are reasonably user-friendly, although they might take some getting used to. It's quite difficult to lift the bikes in and out. "I wouldn't be able to manage it without help," said one lady ruefully, after gratefully accepting an offer of help on the launch day. Convenience apart, the system provides a neat and cost-effective means of accommodating cycles on conventional trains without seriously inconveniencing other passengers.
Anglia operates most of the local trains in Suffolk and Norfolk, and InterCity services from Liverpool Street. Although one of the smallest train operating companies, it has been at the forefront of cycle carriage innovation since privatisation, winning the first Cyclists Touring Club/Sustrans Cycle Mark award last year.
The cycle racks on the trains are just the visible face of a cycle revolution. All Anglia stations now offer cycle parking (either conventional Sheffield stands or secure lockers), and the £3 single journey cycle fee has been replaced by a flat-rate of £1 covering a whole day's rail travel for purchasers of an Anglia Plus pass or a Cheap Day Return ticket. It isn't even necessary to make an advance booking for cycles, although the facility exists, and Anglia recommend booking, particularly in the tourist season. For peak hour commuters, travel is a little more expensive, but there's the option of purchasing a weekly ticket at £9, or an annual season ticket for £300.
That may sound expensive, but the company includes a cycle rescue scheme with all cycle tickets, organised in conjunction with the Environmental Transport Association. The scheme will recover both you and your cycle to the nearest railway station if you find yourself stranded as a result of a fault. It sounds almost too good to be true, and quite how it will work in practice remains to be seen.
For the train operator, there are plenty of community and ecological points to be scored from this sort of initiative, as public relations manager Jonathan Denby admits: "It's all about creating this image. The train is green, it's convenient, and it's there. But the bottom line is business, particularly in the leisure market. We're looking for growth within the Anglia region, both from existing cyclists and tourists on holiday. The East of England Tourist Board is actively promoting this part of the country for cyclists."
For visiting cycle tourists, the best rail option is undoubtedly the Anglia Plus range of one, three or seven day rail passes, offering unlimited travel throughout the Anglia region north of Ipswich and west to Bury St Edmunds or Thetford. The pass is valid after 8.45am Monday-Friday, or any time at weekends. The day pass costs £7 per adult (£4.60 for railcard holders), with up to four accompanied children travelling for £1 each. So a family of four could travel throughout the region for a day with four cycles for £20. Even better value for tourists is the three-day pass, offering three days travel in any seven for £16 (£10.60 for railcard holders, or £36 for a family of four).
The message is leave the car at home.
"We want cyclists to be able to make short hops by train. That's what it's all about," said managing director Andy Cooper.
With a few bold initiatives, Anglia have set standards of cycle-friendliness for other companies to follow.
Restrictions: Cycles are carried free off-peak on Great Eastern trains between London and Ipswich, and West Anglia Great Northern trains from London to Cambridge, but there is a £3 charge each way on Anglia InterCity services in and out of the region. No cycles are allowed on Saturday morning services from Norwich to Great Yarmouth in July and August. Folding cycles may be carried free without booking on any train at any time.
Following the success of A to B magazine's Bike/Rail survey back in November 1997, the magazine is teaming up with RDS to conduct a much bigger survey of rail commuters' cycling habits in July 1998. To help collect data, all that is required is a trip to a convenient station between 7.30am and 9am on any one weekday morning between Monday 27 July and Friday 31 July.
From last year's experience, small stations are easily dealt with by one person, but large termini may need a dozen or more, so volunteers at larger stations will be marshalled into a single team.
If you want to take part, contact the Cycling Officer, David Henshaw, for a survey form and full information. Tel/fax: 01963 351649. e-mail: email@example.com
Note: contact details (postal and email addresses, along with telephone numbers) in old editions of Railwatch out of date. Click CONTACT US for latest contact details.
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