Friday 24 November 2017 07.43 GMT
Great Western Railway’s (GWR) new high-speed Intercity Express trains made headlines last month with their gaffe-filled launch that saw new trains temporarily taken out of service after several on-board malfunctions, on a service that arrived 41 minutes late, with the transport secretary on board.
There could be more bad news down the line for those travelling with cycles, with the prospect that bike space on the new trains is reduced to zero at times, and those who have not booked a bike ticket told they won’t be able to board at all, whether there is free bike space or not.
Bike carriage on UK trains is free, though many train operating companies now require users to book bike space ahead of travel, either online or, as with GWR, by calling the company’s customer services line.
Last year, ahead of the trains’ introduction, GWR introduced the new booking system for bikes which, in stark contrast to the high-tech new trains, requires a paper ticket. Users with cycles need to book their bike space before the train leaves its origin station so, if hopping on a Penzance to London service at, say, Reading, you’ll need to know which train you’ll board hours before you get on – and you’ll have to phone GWR in time to book a bike space.
The system has proved particularly troublesome for users travelling on open return tickets, who don’t know exactly when they will travel on the return leg.
By contrast, on most European trains (all but high-speed lines), bike tickets can be booked at the station, albeit often for a fee.
GWR unveiled its new trains in October, with up to two hanging bike storage spaces per carriage. The company says that while the space is more flexible than on previous trains, potentially resulting in more bike space, the configuration of bike or luggage space is determined at the origin station and cannot be changed midway.
Martyn Brunt of Sustrans was involved in testing the new bike carriages out. Brunt says although the space is “designed pretty well” with secure hangers for bikes and enough space to safely load and unload, there are potential problems.
He says: “The cycle space itself is designed to be flexible, which means that other things than bikes can be stored in there, for instance large luggage. Unless a cycle space is booked ahead, the chances of getting on with a bike are pretty much zero.”
He fears that as the number and configuration of carriages on a given service is at the discretion of the train operating company, busy services may have “virtually no cycle spaces”.
As he puts it: “The strict commercial targets imposed by the Department for Transport create a system that favours getting more seats filled, and thus reducing the space for non-paying items like cycles.”
There are also questions over how disabled, less mobile or elderly cyclists will use the new configuration, which requires users to lift the bike upright to hang it from a hook, or if vehicles like mobility tricycles will fit in the space at all.
Isabelle Clement, of disabled cycling campaign group Wheels for Wellbeing, says the new configuration disproportionately affects disabled cyclists.
“Disabled cyclists are more likely to have to take their cycles on the train [rather than being able to hire one at the other end] due to specific adaptions or needing just the right model or settings.”
“As far as carrying cycles, especially the larger types such as trikes and tandems, it’s a retrograde step.”
“Most train operating companies do not accept to book anything longer or wider than a bicycle. And if you’re not strong enough to lift and hook up the front or back wheel, what do you do?”
She says most train operators are silent on the issue of disabled people and cycles, and she feels disabled users are being overlooked in their plans.
d travel service, for those who need it. GWR has not yet clarified whether the new trains can accommodate tandems and trikes.