Cyclists call for more bikes on the tracks as EU revamps rail travel rules
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Cyclists call for more bikes on the tracks as EU revamps rail travel rules

Credit: The Brussels Times

Expectations are high among cycling enthusiasts in the EU for an upcoming revamp of the bloc’s rail travel rules to meet increasing demand for more bike-friendly trains to hit the tracks.

The European Cyclists’ Federation (ECF) said that EU leadership is key to ensuring that companies roll out more trains capable of suitably accommodating bicycles.

“Throughout Europe, there are still so many trains where you either can’t take a bike on board at all or where it would take so much longer to get to your destination if you are travelling with a bike,” ECF CEO Jill Warren told The Brussels Times.

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While some countries and rail companies have already taken steps to boost the bike-and-train travel combo, steep infrastructure asymmetries between countries too often result in travel headaches which Warren said can discourage passengers from travelling with their bikes.

“One problem in Europe is that, for the most direct and fastest rail connections that exist between major cities, you cannot take an assembled bike,” she said.

According to calculations by the ECF, passengers lose, on average, 2.45 hours if they want to travel with their bikes due to a lack of bike-friendly trains, which lead to complex or lengthy connections.

“From Paris to Luxembourg, for example, the fastest train connection takes 2.14 hours —but with a bike, it will take you more than 11 hours and require three changes,” she said.

At a time when public support for increased bicycle infrastructure is soaring across Europe, with the ECF reporting that up to 80% of Europeans are ready to swap flights for trains, Warren said that now was the moment for EU leaders to deliver policies capable of meeting public demand as well as its own sustainability goals.

The ECF has its eyes set on an upcoming trilogue on 1 October which will see the EU Parliament, Council and Commission hammer out the update to the regulation.

“We have quite a lot of support in Parliament,” she said. “But we have seen in previous attempts at a trilogue that the wording [of the regulation] has been weakened down, so we want to make sure this doesn’t happen this time around.”

Strong wording and binding leadership from the EU is seen as key to ensuring that both national and private companies deliver a minimum of bike-friendly infrastructure, which the ECF has put at at least eight bike spaces on all new and refurbished trains.

“There are ways to make it much more efficient and there are lots of places in the EU where this is already the case,” Ed Lancaster, senior policy officer for the ECF said, citing Germany and Switzerland as examples.

“Markings on the ground and having trains where you can wheel the bike straight on board make it all a lot smoother,” he said. “If these changes are made, it shouldn’t take any longer for someone to take a bike on board than it does for passengers bringing one or two big suitcases.”

According to Luc Goffinet of Belgian cycling non-profit GRACQ, there is “huge demand” in the country for more possibilities to combine bike and rail travel.

Goffinet said that support from the incoming federal government would be key to making the necessary changes in Belgium, since regional governments were mostly on board with developing the country’s rail infrastructure.

“It’s all about trying to make it as efficient as possible,” Lancaster said. “People want to do this, but if it’s too complicated, then they will obviously be put off from it.”

Gabriela Galindo
The Brussels Times