Bikes on Board: A Guide to Using Amtrak to Ride the Erie Canalway Trail

When you decide to ride the Erie Canalway Trail from one end to the other, chances are you’re not going to want to turn around and ride the 360 miles back to where you began. Luckily, thanks to years of advocacy, it’s now possible to use the train to shuttle you and your bike across the state! 

Beginning in 2020, Amtrak started offering “Carry-On Bicycle Service” on all Empire Service and Maple Leaf trains traveling across New York (Update July 2022: Amtrak has suspended service on Maple Leaf trains). With minimal hassle, you can now take your bike on the train with you, either to your starting point at the beginning of the journey or back the other way when you’re done riding. While the process is pretty simple, it can be difficult to navigate the Amtrak website and figure out exactly how this all works – so we created this guide to make it as easy as possible, with some basic background information, a step-by-step guide, and other helpful tips and tricks including a schedule of daily trains going each direction (as of March 2022).

Photo Credit: Amtrak

What you need to know

There are three lines that run between Albany and Buffalo and parallel the Erie Canalway Trail: the Maple Leaf, Empire Service, and Lake Shore Limited. As of July 2022, the Empire Service is the best line to use because it allows carry-on bike service. The Empire Service line comes up from NYC and crosses the state, stopping at Albany-Rensselaer, Schenectady, Amsterdam, Utica, Rome, Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo-Depew, Buffalo-Exchange St., and Niagara Falls. (Note: check the schedule for your specific train – some trains during each day will either terminate at Albany-Rensselaer or skip certain stations). Because these trains stop at so many stations along the Erie Canalway corridor, it also means using the train is a great option for shorter day or other multi-day trips when you want to just go one-way!

Map of the Empire Service Line

On Empire Service trains, there are bicycle racks in the passenger coaches that allow you to roll/carry your bike and hang it with no fuss. The following guide is for traveling via these lines. For more information on traveling with your bike on the Lake Shore Limited (NYC to Chicago), scroll down to the bottom.

Step-by-Step Guide

In advance:

  • Reserve a train ticket and bike add-on through www.amtrak.com or the Amtrak app. First, select one-way, the start and end stations, and the date. After you select the time and coach option type for your trip, you will be asked to fill out your traveler details. Finally, you will see a screen where you can customize your trip. Click the + to reserve a spot for your bicycle for $20. Click “Add to Cart”. Continue your purchase and pay to finish the process. Tip: Reserve your tickets early! There are a limited number of bike racks available on each train (sometimes only 4) and they can fill up quickly.
The section of the screen that shows where you can add a bike reservation to your ticket.
Example of a bike hanging on the rack on a North East Regional train.
Credit: John Boyle, Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia

The day of/at the station:

  • Arrive with plenty of time. Amtrak recommends arriving 30 minutes early when traveling with a bike.
  • Remove panniers or other bulky bags/baskets and your front wheel. Removing panniers will make it easier to lift your bike onto the train and your front wheel must be removed to hang the bike on the rack. A bungee to secure your front wheel to your frame when lifting it into the train might prove helpful. You can also remove your front wheel after boarding, but with limited space, it is usually less stressful to do it before. Tip: If you don’t have a quick release front wheel, make sure you have the appropriate wrench (usually a 15mm wrench will do the trick).

When the train arrives:

  • Look for a “bike friendly” sticker on the side of a car or find a conductor. When the train arrives, navigate to a bike friendly car or ask a conductor to point you to a car with an open bike rack. They will likely ask you to wait until all other passengers have boarded.
  • Lift your bike into the train car. You must be physically capable of lifting your bicycle up to shoulder height, although crew members will be available to assist if necessary.
  • Hang your bike on the rack by the back wheel. Secure with the provided strap. Store your panniers or any other baggage in a luggage rack.
  • Sit back and enjoy the ride!

Other Helpful Tips and Tricks:

  • Make sure your bike fits the dimensions specified by Amtrak: Bicycles up to 50 lbs. Standard bicycle sizes apply (70 inches x 41 inches x 8.5 inches). Maximum tire width: 2″
  • The closest Amtrak station to the western trailhead is the downtown Buffalo station, Buffalo-Exchange St. (BFX), which is less than a mile from the trail. You can also board/get off at Buffalo-Depew (BUF), but it is about 10 miles from the trail.
  • The closest Amtrak station to the eastern trailhead is Albany-Rennsaeler (ALB), which is about a mile away from the trail. When booking your ticket, do not select ABA (Albany, NY, Albany Intl Airport), as these trains do not run through that station and nothing will come up when you search for tickets. To get between the trail and the station, you’ll use the path on the Dunn Memorial Bridge to cross over the Hudson.

Daily Trains from Buffalo (BFX) to Albany (ALB) (as of March 2022)

Train LineTimetable (BFX-ALB)
Empire Service4:30am – 9:41am
Empire Service7:25am – 12:37am
Lake Shore Limited*9:05am – 2:53pm

Daily Trains from Albany (ALB) to Buffalo (BFX) (as of March 2022)

Train LineTimetable (BFX-ALB)
Empire Service1:10pm – 6:44pm
Empire Service4:00pm – 9:23pm
Lake Shore Limited*7:05pm – 12:29am
*Due to COVID-19, this train is not running as frequently and may not be available every day. Refer to the next section for more details on the Lake Shore Limited.

Traveling with a bike on the Lake Shore Limited (NYC to Chicago)

As a long-distance line, the Lake Shore Limited (NYC to Chicago) operates differently. This service runs less frequently, doesn’t stop at as many stations, and has a different procedure for handling bikes. Of importance to Erie Canalway Trail visitors, this service does not stop at Buffalo-Exchange St., the station closest to the start/end of the trail. It does stop at Buffalo-Depew, however this station is about 10 miles from downtown.

Traveling with a bike on the Lake Shore Limited is also a little more complicated, as bikes must be checked at the station (only available at stations with checked baggage service) and are carried in the baggage car. While the Amtrak website says that checked bicycle service is not available to/from ALB, PTNY staff confirmed that as long as there are available slots to add your bike when you buy a ticket, you will be able to bring your bike.

Additional Resources:

For planning a trip on the Erie Canalway Trail:

Cycle the Erie Canal Website

Cycle the Erie Canal Interactive map

Cycling the Erie Canal Facebook Group

For traveling with a bike on trains:

https://www.newyorkbyrail.com/sports-gear-on-amtrak-bicycles/

https://www.adventurecycling.org/blog/amtrak-bike-service-what-is-it-where-to-find-it/

https://www.amtrak.com/onboard/bring-your-bicycle-onboard.html

https://www.amtrak.com/bring-bikes-on-northeast-trains

3 thoughts on “Bikes on Board: A Guide to Using Amtrak to Ride the Erie Canalway Trail

  1. great, being looking for affordable practical way to bring bicycle on train for years. Also I have interest in bringing bike on train from Albany to Plattsburg.

    1. The train from Albany to Plattsburgh is currently suspended due to the border closure. But when it resumes (hopefully soon!), we expect it to offer the same carry-on bicycle service as on the Empire Service.

  2. I too am interested in that route. I have been thinking of biking from NYC to Montreal and am considering skipping some of the ride through the Adirondack mountains.

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